WORLD

Hurricane Harvey Makes Landfall As Powerful Category 4 Storm

26/08/2017 3:04 AM AEST | Updated 26/08/2017 8:46 PM AEST
  • Hurricane Harvey made landfall late Friday as a stronger-than-expected Category 4 storm.

  • At the request of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, President Donald Trump signed a presidential disaster declaration ahead of Harvey’s landfall.

  • Massive destruction took place in Texas cities including Rockport and Corpus Christi just after the hurricane made landfall.

  • It has since been downgraded to a Category 1 storm and is now moving slowly inland over south Texas.

  • The National Hurricane Center has warned of “catastrophic flooding” in the area over the next few days.

Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas late Friday as a powerful Category 4 storm, exceeding previous projections and threatening “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” across the state. 

The eye of the storm made landfall at 10 p.m. local time over the northern end of San Jose Island, about 4 miles east of Rockport, according to the National Hurricane Center.  

Tens of thousands of people fled the Gulf Coast as the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi warned that certain areas could be left “uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

In a tweet, the National Weather Service called the storm “about as fierce as they come!”

The National Hurricane Center upgraded the slow-moving, waterlogged storm to a Category 4 hurricane late Friday afternoon as its maximum sustained winds grew to 130 mph.

It was later downgraded to a Category 3 storm at around 1 a.m. as it made landfall for a second time at Copano Bay, before being further lowered to a Category 2 about one hour later and then a Category 1. 

The hurricane is now moving slowly inland over south Texas, and the Center is warning of “catastrophic flooding” over the next few days. It is expected to become a tropical storm later Saturday, according to the National Weather Service, as it travels across the coast and up through Louisiana in coming days.

Multiple tornado and flash flood warnings are now in effect across much of south central Texas.

The National Weather Service warned that Category 4 storms can result in “catastrophic damage” to even well-built frame homes, while dwellings like mobile homes will almost certainly be destroyed. 

Given the intensity of the winds ― Category 4 tops out at 156 mph ― large trees will also likely be snapped or uprooted.

The last Category 4 storm in the U.S. was Hurricane Charley, which caused $13 billion in damages when it made landfall in Florida in 2004.

In an intense livestream video, storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski said wind gusts at his location in Rockport reached 149 miles per hour Friday night and recorded debris flying past his car. At one point the roof of the building he was in appeared to collapse around him.

“To say this area is coming apart is an understatement,” he said. “It’s disintegrating.” As the storm moves inland, it was not the wind that was giving experts pause ― but the possibility of what the NHC called “life-threatening inundation.”

NOAA/National Weather Center
Hurricane Harvey was expected to drop more than 20 inches of rain in some areas of Texas.

Harvey is projected to drop 15 to 25 inches of rain on the middle and upper Texas coast, with some areas likely to see as much as 35 inches by the middle of next week. That’s on top of coastal storm surge flooding of 6 to 12 feet, the NHC said.

“One of the things we know is that people tend to fixate on storm category,” Tricia Wachtendorf, director of the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center, told HuffPost in an email. “But these categories are based on wind speed.

“Residents sometimes think ‘Oh, I’ve been through higher category storms than that!’ but then are surprised by the storm surge. ... Some people further inland might think ‘we don’t live along the coast’ or ‘the storm has turned away from us’ without considering the huge impact of rains on their creeks and rivers, and rising flood waters can catch people by surprise.”

Reuters

The city of Rockport suffered immense devastation after the storm made landfall Friday, with CBS reporting that people were trapped in various buildings, including a senior complex, and couldn’t be reached. A high school in Rockport reportedly sustained damage, as did a hotel. Rockport was one of several cities under a flash flood warning until the early hours of the morning.

“Right now we’re still hunkered down and can’t go anywhere,” Steve Sims, Rockport’s volunteer fire chief, told Reuters at around 1 a.m. local time. “We’ve heard rumors of 1,000 different things, we can’t confirm anything because we haven’t seen anything. We know we’ve got a lot of problems, but we don’t know what yet.”

With a metropolitan population of about 450,000, Corpus Christi was expected to bear the initial brunt of the storm. As of late Friday night, more than 120,000 homes in the Corpus Christi area had lost power. The city said parts of the metro area could be without power for three to seven days.

On Friday afternoon, the Corpus Christi Police Department announced it would respond to calls about life-threatening situations only “if conditions allow.”

Corpus Christi Caller-Times reporter Matt Woolbright noted water levels in the city were rising quickly as of Friday morning, hours before the storm’s arrival:

On Thursday, Mayor Joe McComb urged residents to be prepared, describing the situation as “almost at the threshold for mandatory evacuation.” 

Forecasters expect Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city and a major hub for the nation’s oil refineries, to get at least 20 inches of rain. A disruption to shipping lanes there could devastate the local petrochemical economy, with ripple effects throughout the U.S. economy, similar to what happened with Hurricane Ike in 2008. Cruise ships are also being diverted from the area.

The National Hurricane Center had warned Friday that Harvey may actually end up hitting Texas twice. Experts told The Associated Press Harvey could land first on the central coast, then stall out and shift back into the Gulf of Mexico, where it would strengthen again and potentially hit Houston sometime next week.

Jim Tanner/Reuters
Store shelves in a Houston-area Walmart sit empty Friday, ahead of Hurricane Harvey.

At roughly the same time Harvey strengthened into a Category 3 storm Friday, the coastal city of Galveston, near Houston, issued a tornado warning. Though the development wasn’t unexpected, it nonetheless added another element of danger to the situation.

A late-afternoon tornado in the city reportedly damaged a McDonald’s, ripping the golden arches from the restaurant’s sign:

“Hurricanes will often create ideal weather conditions for tornadoes and severe rains that can destroy/make impassable evacuation routes,” Curt Harris, an associate director at the University of Georgia’s Institute for Disaster Management, explained to HuffPost in an email.

“Additionally, large amounts of water, flying debris and high winds can cause disruptions in utilities, sewage systems, and can leak environmental contaminants from destroyed industries,” he added. “The irony is for all the water on the ground there is likely to be none that is potable for those that remain behind.”

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A road sign warns travelers of Hurricane Harvey on Friday in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Despite the ominous forecast, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it has no plans to close its roadside immigration checkpoints in Texas “unless there is a danger to the safety of the traveling public and our agents.”

In a follow-up statement issued jointly with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, CBP said that in the event of an evacuation, “Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a disaster proclamation ahead of Harvey’s landfall for 30 counties in the state. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) declared a state of emergency for all of Louisiana.

The White House announced on Friday evening that President Donald Trump signed a disaster proclamation, a move the president also touted on Twitter.

Earlier Friday he tweeted that he was “closely monitoring” the situation and was “here to assist as needed.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also preemptively deployed 460 medical personnel and several mobile medical stations to the area.

According to Gary Webb, chairman of the Department of Emergency Management and Disaster Science at the University of North Texas, cooperation among all levels of government will be critical to handling Harvey, should it reach catastrophic levels. 

“All disasters are local, but by their very nature large-scale crises create demands that exceed local capacity and require the intervention of higher-level governments,” Webb told HuffPost in an email.

“I think most observers would agree that the governmental response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 showed dramatic improvements over the Katrina experience seven years earlier.  Harvey will be our first big test since Sandy, and hopefully we will see continued improvements.”

Doha Madani contributed reporting.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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