Hurricane Harvey slams into Texas coastline

 26 Aug 2017 - 10:26

Hurricane Harvey slams into Texas coastline
Traffic lights lie on a street after being knocked down, as Hurricane Harvey approaches in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S. August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.

AFP

Corpus Christi, United States: Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast late Friday, unleashing torrents of rain and packing powerful winds, the first major storm to hit the US mainland in 12 years.

The storm made landfall in the small town of Rockport -- near Corpus Christi, a major US oil industry hub. It was packing sustained winds of 130 miles per hour (215 kilometers per hour), a Category Four hurricane on the five-level storm scale.

A few hours later the storm made a second landfall just north of Rockport as a Category Three hurricane, with winds of 125 miles (205 kilometers) per hour, the National Hurricane Center reported at 0600 GMT Saturday.

President Donald Trump granted Texas Governor Greg Abbott's request to declare a "major disaster" zone in the state to speed federal aid to the millions in harm's way.

The White House said that the president would head to the affected region early next week.

"We can obviously tell already at this stage this is going to be a very major disaster," a somber Abbott said, as more than 1,000 National Guardsmen were activated to help with evacuation and recovery.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned of likely "catastrophic flooding" due to the massive rainfall forecast and the huge storm surge, which could reach 13 feet (nearly four meters) in some places.

Meteorologists warned that tornadoes were possible through Saturday from Texas into Louisiana, which is also expected to take a major hit.

The powerful storm has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and crippled oil production in the Gulf.

Rockport Mayor Patrick Rios had blunt words for those determined to stay, telling them to "mark their arm with a Sharpie pen, put their social security number" -- to identify them if they were found dead.

Before the storm hit, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prepositioned emergency supplies and authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders in many areas.

As he headed to the Camp David presidential retreat for the weekend with his family, Trump said: "Good luck to everybody."

- 'Significant disaster' -

Harvey, the most powerful hurricane to hit the mainland since Wilma struck Florida in 2005, could dump up to 40 inches (more than one meter) of rain on the area over the next few days -- and cause billions of dollars in damage. 

2005 was a huge year for hurricanes -- before Wilma, Hurricane Katrina pummelled New Orleans, leaving more than 1,800 dead and becoming one of the greatest domestic headaches for then-president George W. Bush.

Coastal Texas is a fast-growing area, with some 1.5 million people moving into the area since 1999. 

Authorities said the combination of dense growth and perhaps a year's worth of rain falling in just four or five days could prove deadly. 

Supermarket aisles were stripped bare, homes and shops had boarded up windows.

The NHC warned of the "complete destruction of mobile homes," of many buildings "washing away," and some areas being left "uninhabitable for weeks or months".

- 'Here to assist' -

In 2005, Bush faced severe criticism after FEMA appeared unprepared for the devastating damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina.

In a series of tweets throughout Friday, Trump said he was closely monitoring the storm's progress and said he was "here to assist as needed".

"Storm turned Hurricane is getting much bigger and more powerful than projected. Federal Government is on site and ready to respond. Be safe!" he wrote after arriving at Camp David.

Later he announced that he had granted governor Abbott's request that the area be declared a major disaster zone.

Once the storm made landfall he tweeted a link to Fox News storm coverage and a message to Abbott: "We will remain fully engaged w/ open lines of communication ... America is w/ you!"

- 'Just terrifying' -

In Corpus Christi, many residents appeared bent on sitting the storm out, packing sandbags to protect their homes -- until the supply of sandbags ran out.

As the storm struck city officials urged residents to boil their tap water as a precautionary measure.

Sheriff Frank Osborne of Matagorda County, where evacuations were mandatory, told local TV station KHOU that he would not risk the lives of his deputies "to save somebody that didn't leave when they were asked to."

Officials in Houston, the most populous city in the storm's path, closed its port but did not anticipate mass evacuations. 

Inland cities like San Antonio welcomed evacuees, but some at the shelters told AFP that supplies were lacking.

FEMA chief Brock Long said the most pressing danger was the storm surge, but also said many inland counties should prepare for "significant" flooding. 

US authorities said about 22 percent of crude production in the Gulf of Mexico was shut down as of Friday -- accounting for more than 375,000 barrels a day. But total US production stands at 9.5 million barrels a day, experts say.

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus told AFP the prospect of the storm stalling on the coast, lashing it with heavy rain for days, was "just terrifying."

In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards issued an emergency declaration for his entire state, as authorities in New Orleans -- where Katrina did the most damage -- readied high-water rescue vehicles and boats.