Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas, in the small town of Rockport near Corpus Christi, early Saturday, slamming the state’s Gulf Coast with strong winds and heavy rain hundreds of miles of coastline.
Harvey is the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade – with winds of 209 kph at the time of landfall.
The storm has gradually weakened, however, and by early morning Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said that Harvey had sustained winds of 185 kph.
As Harvey approached, tens of thousands of Texas residents fled inland to avoid the threatening storm.
No casualties were immediately confirmed, but officials noted emergency crews could not get out in many places due to high winds.
As Harvey began to push onto the Texas coast Friday evening President Donald Trump said he had signed a federal disaster declaration for Texas.
The National Hurricane Center called Harvey a “life-threatening storm.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the hurricane will be a “major disaster” and warned residents to prepare for record flooding.
The storm is predicted to move through a 600-kilometer-wide swath of the Texas coastline.
The head of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday warned of a “very significant disaster” about to hit Texas.
FEMA Director Brock Long, speaking on CNN, said his biggest concern was that some citizens along the coastline ignored warnings from officials and have chosen not to evacuate their homes.
“If they have not, their window to evacuate is rapidly coming to a close,” Long said. “Storm surge has the highest potential to kill the most amount of people and cause the most of damage. On top of that, we are looking at a significant inland flood event over many counties.”
Long, along with acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, briefed President Donald Trump this morning on preparations for the storm. Trump said on Twitter he is “closely monitoring” the storm and he spoke with the governors of Texas and Louisiana to ensure them the federal government is there to assist as needed.
The mayor of the Texas Gulf Coast city of Galveston, James Yarbrough, said Friday the hurricane is expected to flood downtown streets, and said the water might not recede for three or four days.
The eye wall of Hurricane Harvey reaches Rockport, Texas:
“We’ve all been through a number of these, this one’s a little different. … This one’s not going anywhere,” Yarbrough said.
Hurricanes usually weaken rapidly once they move inland, but forecasters say this storm will follow an unusual pattern — stalling once it hits the coast, then probably moving back out to sea briefly and making a second drenching pass at low-lying coastal communities.
Harvey is expected to pour nearly 100 centimeters of rain over a wide area of the Texas coast during the next three days.
Brad Kieserman, vice president for disaster operations at the American Red Cross, told VOA, “I expect we are going to see major flood stage on probably every major river in the lower half of Texas.
“That is going to destroy homes, it is going to destroy businesses, it is going to render many homes to be uninhabitable. And I think you are going to see many of those rivers stay at major flood stage well past Labor Day (September 4),” Kieserman said.
Preparing for flooding
Texans who live on the Gulf Coast have prepared for the storm with stacks of sandbags around particularly flood-prone areas. Residents crowded stores to buy water and other supplies to sustain them during what could be days of turmoil.
Federal courts in southern Texas and have begun closing while federal courts in other parts of the state and in neighboring Louisiana say they are monitoring weather developments.
The last hurricane to hit the southern portion of the Texas coast was 14 years ago.
For Hurricane Harvey, Governor Abbott ordered state emergency workers to mobilize for any necessary search-and-rescue operations.
He has preemptively declared a state of disaster in 30 counties on or near the coast to speed deployment of state resources.