Hurricane Harvey, the most powerful to hit the US in about 12 years, left a trail of destruction as it swept across Texas today, pummelling the region with heavy rains and claiming at least two lives since making landfall on the US' Gulf Coast.
Harvey continued to batter Texas during the early hours of this morning, dropping half a foot of rain on Houston and causing dire, and deadly, flash floods. By midnight, the authorities had reported two deaths that appeared to be related to the storm, one in Rockport and the other in Houston, with up to 14 people injured. Some eyewitness accounts stated that more people had died and media reports had earlier said three persons had been killed in connection with the hurricane. Forecasters warned that Harvey's onslaught was just the beginning. In an advisory yesterday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said the storm was already producing "torrential rains", and it warned that "catastrophic flooding" was likely in the days ahead.
Harvey bombarded the stretch of the Gulf Coast in Texas with home-ripping winds and torrential rains. As emergency officials scrambled to assess the extent of the damage, hundreds of thousands of people were without power after utility poles were knocked to the ground. Emergency responders continued to comb through the debris of collapsed buildings, overturned trailers, broken power poles and uprooted trees. Harvey is the strongest storm to hit Texas, the center of the US oil and gas industry, since 1961.
The streets in Houston were drenched and deserted last night as millions of people along the Texas coastline took stock of the devastation -- houses crushed by trees, gas stations torn to shreds, road signs blown out. US President Donald Trump, facing the first big natural disaster of his term, had said he has signed a disaster proclamation that "unleashes the full force of government help" shortly before Harvey made landfall. Houston Mayor of Houston Sylvester Turner said the city will receive two to three feet of rain in the coming days. "This is serious...It is important that people stay off the roads," Turner said. He said that the city is prepared for what he described as a "major water event". Some areas could get up to more than 100 centimetres of rain. "Rainfall of this magnitude will cause catastrophic and life-threatening flooding," the NHC said.
Earlier, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he would activate 1,800 members of the military to help with the state-wide clean-up while 1,000 people would conduct search- and-rescue operations. The seaside town of Rockport, 48km north of the city of Corpus Christi, was hit the hardest with several homes collapsing and many buildings damaged. At a recreational vehicle sales outlet, a dozen vehicles were flipped over and one had been blown to the middle of the street. As many as 6 million people were believed to be in Harvey's path, as it is the heart of America's oil-refining operations.
The storm's impact on refineries has already pushed up gasoline prices. The US Environmental Protection Agency eased rules on gasoline specifications late on Friday to reduce shortages. Utilities American Electric Power Company Inc and CenterPoint Energy Inc reported a combined total of around 300,000 customers without power. While thousands fled the expected devastating flooding and destruction, many residents stayed put in imperilled towns and stocked up on food, fuel and sandbags.
Incessant rain in Houston at nearly 3 inches an hour, left some streets and underpasses submerged. Francisco Sanchez, of the Harris County Emergency Management Office, said the storm would be around for a while. South of the city, about 4,500 inmates were evacuated from three state prisons in Brazoria County in the wake of the water level rising in the nearby Brazos River. The turbulent weather extended into southern Louisiana, where motorists were cautioned about high water, road hazards, high winds and tornadoes.