The most powerful storm to strike the US state of Texas in more than 50 years claimed its second victim on Saturday as Harvey ripped off roofs, snapped trees, triggered tornadoes and threatened “catastrophic floods.”
The second fatality was identified as a woman who was killed as she drove through flooded streets on Houston’s west side, a Houston police officer said. On Friday night, an unidentified victim died in a house fire in the town of Rockport, 30 miles (48 km) north of Corpus Christi.
Another dozen people in the area suffered injuries like broken bones, another official said.
Harvey slammed into Texas late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 miles per hour (209 km per hour), making it the strongest storm to hit the state since 1961. It has since lingered over Houston, dumping 2-3 inches of rain an hour onto the city.
The storm also knocked out power to more than 230,000 people, mostly in the Houston area, on Saturday night. It also largely curtailed oil and gas production in the state, prompting price hikes at the pumps.
Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday but was expected to lash Texas for days as it lumbers inland, bringing as much as 40 inches (102 cm) of rain to some areas, according to the National Hurricane Center, which described the forecast for the state as potentially “catastrophic.”
The Weather Channel reported that rainfall rates in Houston, the fourth most populous city in the United States and home to a third of the 6 million people that could be impacted by Harvey, could reach 5-6 inches per hour, making streets impassable.
Authorities did not know the full scope of damage because weather conditions prevented emergency crews from getting into the hardest-hit places. And they dreaded the destruction that was yet to come.
In the island community of Port Aransas, population 3,800, officials were unable to fully survey the town because of “massive” damage. Police and heavy equipment had only made it into the northernmost street.
“I can tell you I have a very bad feeling and that’s about it,” said Mayor Charles Bujan, who had called for a mandatory evacuation but did not know how many heeded the order.
Some of the worst damage appeared to be in Rockport, a coastal city of about 10,000 that was directly in the storm’s path. The mayor said his community took a blow “right on the nose” that left “widespread devastation,” including homes, businesses and schools that were heavily damaged. Some structures were destroyed.
By Saturday evening, a convoy of military vehicles had arrived in the Rockport area with people and equipment to help in the recovery efforts, and town officials announced an overnight curfew for residents.
Before the storm hit, Rockport’s mayor told anyone staying behind to write their names on their arms for identification in case of death or injury. A high school, hotel, senior housing complex and other buildings suffered structural damage, according to emergency officials and local media.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he was activating 1,800 members of the military to help with the statewide cleanup, while 1,000 people would conduct search-and-rescue operations.
The streets of Corpus Christi, a city of about 320,000 people, were deserted on Saturday, with billboards twisted and strong winds still blowing. Elsewhere, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it was forced to evacuate some 4,500 inmates from three state prisons near the Brazos River because of rising water.
The US Coast Guard said it had rescued 20 people from distressed vessels on Saturday, and was also monitoring two Carnival Corp cruise ships carrying thousands of people stranded in the US Gulf of Mexico due to the effects of the storm.
Rainfall totals varied across the region, with Corpus Christi and Galveston receiving around 3 inches (8 centimeters), Houston 7 (18 centimeters) and Aransas 10 (25 centimeters). Tiny Austwell got 15 inches (38 centimeters).
“This is serious,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a televised interview on Saturday afternoon. “It is important that people stay off the roads.” Turner said the city, which has faced flooding in recent years during smaller storms, is prepared for what he described as a “major water event”.
Authorities warned of the potentially life-threatening impact of heavy rains between Houston and Corpus Christi over the next several days.
The latest forecast storm track has Harvey looping back toward the Gulf of Mexico coast before turning north again on Tuesday.
“This rain will lead to a prolonged, dangerous, and potentially catastrophic flooding event well into next week,” the National Weather Service said.
The size and strength of Harvey dredged up memories of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that made a direct hit on New Orleans as a Category 3 storm, causing levees and flood walls to fail in dozens of places. About 1,800 died in the disaster made worse by a slow government emergency response. The last Category 4 storm to hit the US was Hurricane Charley in August 2004 in Florida.
US President Donald Trump, facing the first big natural disaster of his term, signed a disaster proclamation on Friday. He met with his cabinet and staff on Saturday to discuss the federal reaction to the storm, according to a White House statement.
“President Trump emphasized his expectations that all departments and agencies stay fully engaged and positioned to support his number one priority of saving lives,” according to the statement.