Houston crippled by catastrophic flood
HOUSTON - ReutersTropical Storm Harvey was set to dump more rain on Houston yesterday, worsening flooding that has paralyzed the country’s fourth biggest city, forced thousands to flee surrounding counties and swollen rivers to levels not seen in centuries.
Harvey, the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, first hit land late on Aug. 25 and has killed at least two people. It has since stayed around Texas’ Gulf of Mexico Coast where it is forecast to remain for several more days, drenching parts with a year’s worth of rain in the span of a week.
Schools, airports and office buildings in Houston, home to about 2.3 million people, were ordered shut yesterday as scores of roads turned into rivers and chest-high water filled neighborhoods in the low-lying city.
Torrential rain also hit areas more than 150 miles (240 km) away, swelling rivers upstream and causing a surge that was heading toward the Houston area.
Authorities ordered more than 50,000 people to leave parts of Fort Bend County, about 35 miles (55 km) southwest of Houston as the Brazos River was set to crest at a record high of 59 feet (18 m) this week, 14 feet above its flood stage.
Brazos County Judge Robert Hebert told reporters the forecast crest represents a high not seen in at least 800 years.
“What we’re seeing is the most devastating flood event in Houston’s recorded history,” said Steve Bowen, chief meteorologist at reinsurance firm Aon Benfield.
Total precipitation could reach 50 inches (127 cm) in some coastal areas of Texas by the end of the week, or the average rainfall for an entire year, forecasters said. Nearly 24 inches fell in a span of 24 hours in Baytown, a city home to major refineries about 30 miles east of Houston, the National Weather Service said early on Aug. 28.
“Water started flooding our house and by last night we were unable to leave,” said Maria Davila, one of about 1,000 people in a makeshift shelter at Houston’s sprawling convention center.
Dallas will set up a “mega shelter” it its convention center to house 5,000 evacuees, the city said in a statement.
U.S. President Donald Trump plans to go to Texas today to survey damage from the storm, a White House spokeswoman said on Aug. 27.
Trump, facing the first big U.S. natural disaster since he took office in January, signed a disaster proclamation on Aug. 25, triggering federal relief efforts. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Aug. 27 he plans to add 1,000 more National Guard personnel to the flood battle.
The center of Harvey was 96 miles (154 km) southwest of Houston on Monday morning and forecast to arc slowly toward the city through today.
“The storm isn’t moving much. If it doesn’t move much, it keeps throwing rain into the same area,” Steve Wistar, a senior meteorologist with AcuWeather, said in a telephone interview.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office used motorboats, airboats, humvees and other vehicles to rescue more than 2,000 people in the greater Houston area on Aug. 27, a spokesman said.
The U.S. Coast Guard and Houston police rescued hundreds more as residents brought boats to staging centers to help and helicopters were deployed to save others stranded by the floods.
The National Weather Service has issued flood watches and warnings from near San Antonio to New Orleans, an area home to more than 13 million people.
Federal authorities predicted it would take years to repair the damage caused by Harvey.
Forecasters could only draw on a few comparisons to the storm, recalling Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and killed 1,800 people in 2005.
Katrina resulted in more than $15 billion in flood insurance losses in Louisiana and Mississippi. Flood damage in Texas from Hurricane Harvey may equal that from Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, an insurance research group said.
The Gulf is home to almost half of the nation’s refining capacity, and the reduced supply could affect gasoline supplies across the U.S. Southeast and other parts of the country. Shutdowns extended across the coast, including Exxon Mobil’s Baytown refinery, the second largest U.S. refinery.
The outages will limit the availability of U.S. crude, gasoline and other refined products for global consumers and further push up prices, analysts said.
All Houston port facilities were closed on Aug. 28 because of the weather threat, a port spokeswoman said.
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, one of the nation’s busiest, and William P. Hobby airport halted all commercial flights on Aug. 27. The airports remained closed to commercial traffic yesterday.