‘Catastrophic’ flooding traps Houston residents
(CNN) — Rescue workers in Houston renewed search efforts Sunday morning for residents trapped in their homes by Tropical Storm Harvey’s rising floodwaters.
More than 1,000 people were rescued overnight from record flooding in the area, authorities said. The storm so far has killed two people in Texas, said authorities, who added they expect the death toll to rise.
Law enforcement agencies advised people trapped in their houses not to take shelter in their attics unless they carried axes so they could break through to their roofs and within sight of rescue workers.
Here are the latest developments:
- Two people have died so far in the storm: a woman who drove her vehicle into high water in Houston and a man killed by a fire in Rockport.
- Florida and New York City are sending emergency workers and equipment to Texas. “After Superstorm Sandy, so many cities stepped up to help our people. We’ll do all we can to help those affected by this storm,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter.
- More than 24 inches of rain fell in 24 hours in Houston, the National Weather Service reported Sunday morning.
- Harvey may soon weaken into a tropical depression, but the storm has stalled and will keep pounding the region with rain and wind through the coming week, forecasters said. “It’s going to last four to five days,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
People told CNN they were stranded in houses and hotels and hoped for help now that morning has come to Texas.
“We are still stranded in our home with little kids and the water keeps rising,” Houston resident Janet Castillo told CNN on Sunday morning. “We have called already to several numbers but no luck. We have (tried) but their lines are all busy or they don’t answer.”
Jake Lewis said he woke up to ankle-deep water in the Houston hotel where he was staying.
“We have nowhere to go,” said Lewis, of New Braunfels, Texas. “If you go out and look at the service road it’s flooded. I have a 2016 Chevy Silverado and the water is up to the door panels. The water keeps rising.”
One of two confirmed fatalities in the ferocious storm happened in Houston when a woman drove her vehicle into high water, city police said. Police said they believe the car became inoperable or the water was too high to pass through. The victim got out of her vehicle, was overtaken by floodwaters and drowned.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez urged people to think twice before they leave their house and wade through water.
“The instinct is to want to exit out and just try to go find safer ground somewhere, but sometimes the water could be more treacherous,” he said, noting that manhole covers may have lifted.
Gonzalez said via Twitter that many rescues were taking place overnight in the Houston area and requests were coming in for high-water rescues. “Some involve children, others with medical issues. Trying to get to as many as possible,” Gonzalez said.
One rescue involved a hospital transport for a person who had suffered a cardiac arrest. Several people were rescued from a vehicle on a highway.
“Our units are trying to get to everyone as soon as possible,” he said.
People are tweeting their locations and asking for help.
One person, whose mom is diabetic and dad has heart disease, said on Twitter, “We need help!! My house is flooded.”
Harvey blasted ashore as a Category 4 hurricane around 11 p.m. ET Friday just north of Corpus Christi. Once ashore, it lost wind speed and was downgraded to a tropical storm.
Still, Harvey spawned tornadoes and lightning, with extensive damage reported. A flash flood emergency was declared for sections of Houston.
The National Weather Service said maximum sustained winds Sunday would be near 45 mph, with higher gusts. Some weakening is forecast over the next few days, and forecasters in the latest advisory say the storm is likely to become a tropical depression by tonight.
But authorities say now is not the time to relax.
The slow-moving storm is expected to drop 15 to 25 inches of rain over the middle and upper Texas coast through Thursday. There could be isolated storms that reach 40 inches of rain. “Rainfall of this magnitude will cause catastrophic and life-threatening flooding,” the weather service said.
Fatality in Rockport
Another fatality was reported in the hard-hit coastal city of Rockport, where a person died in a house fire during the storm, Aransas County Judge Burt Mills said Saturday afternoon. “We didn’t know about it until today,” he said.
With dire warnings of tornadoes, torrential downpours and days of flooding to come, broad swaths of southeast Texas were littered with uprooted trees, toppled signs, flagpoles snapped like toothpicks and clusters of bricks peeled like scabs from walls and rooftops.
Additional fatalities were feared in Rockport, where an estimated 5,000 residents had stayed put for the storm, Aransas County Sheriff Bill Mills said.
Callers to the local emergency dispatch line told of walls and roofs collapsing across the city. An official there had warned those who opted to stick out the storm to write their Social Security numbers on their arms for body identification.
Shortly after Harvey became a tropical storm, with sustained winds of 70 mph, Saturday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters that the state had more than 1,000 workers involved in search and rescue operations.
Some places even far inland were predicted to get as much as 40 inches of rain through Wednesday.
While the worst of the storm surge had ended by midday Saturday, the coastal flooding threat was due to increase as already-swollen rivers and bayous are pounded with heavy rain, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said. Sea water pushed onshore also won’t recede quickly, he said, meaning “this is going to be a long, ongoing flood event.”
Brock Long, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Harvey would leave areas “uninhabitable for weeks or months,” echoing language last seen ahead of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Taking shelter and bracing for rain
In San Antonio, about 950 people took refuge in shelters, Woody Woodward, a spokesman for the city fire department, told CNN, adding that there was still plenty of space for more people.
Ten critically ill babies in Corpus Christi were taken to a hospital in North Texas ahead of the storm, the Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth said in a statement.
“All our babies made it here safely,” Dawn Lindley, a registered nurse with Children’s Health Transport Team, told CNN.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced that the state is sending help to Texas.
“Twenty-five (fish and wildlife conservation) officers, 17 high water vehicles, two Mobile Command Centers, eight shallow draft vessels and four patrol boats are currently in route to Houston and are expected to arrive early tomorrow morning to immediately begin response efforts,” he said in a news release.
New York City is sending 120 emergency personnel to Texas to assist in the aftermath of Harvey, according to a tweet from Mayor Bill de Blasio Sunday morning.