Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast Friday, August 25, with winds topping 130 mph. By Thursday, August 31, it was making its way northeast across Louisiana as a tropical depression with winds up to 20 mph. A rain gauge near Highlands, Texas, registered 51.88 inches of rainfall, breaking the record for the continental US. At least 41 deaths have been reported, and officials expect the toll to rise. Tens of thousands of people have taken refuge in shelters as dangerous flooding slowly recedes.
The worst of Hurricane Harvey was over by Thursday, August 31, but recovery from the feet of rain the storm dropped in Texas and Louisiana should take months.
Harvey was downgraded to a tropical depression on Wednesday night, but many parts of Texas and western Louisiana were still underwater a week after the storm started. And the monster storm was not done yet – it’s expected to cause flash flooding through many parts of Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas through Saturday.
Harvey’s death toll continues to rise as family members and authorities report more fatalities. Galveston County Emergency Management confirmed three more deaths on Wednesday night, bringing the total to at least 41.
Some 33,000 people in Texas have sought refuge in more than 230 shelters, and 325,000 have signed up for disaster assistance, officials said.
“This is a landmark event for Texas,” Brock Long, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, said Monday. “Texas has never seen an event like this.”
Record rainfall and catastrophic flooding
Harvey arrived on the shores of Texas as a hurricane Friday night, packing sustained wind speeds as high as 130 mph. It made a second landfall as a tropical storm on the Texas border near Cameron, Louisiana, around 4:30 a.m. CDT on Wednesday. As of Thursday evening, it was classified a tropical depression with maximum winds of 20 mph.
On Tuesday, a rain gauge near Highlands, Texas registered 51.88 inches of rainfall – breaking the record for most rainfall from a single storm in the entire continental US. Houston saw 44 inches, plunging much of the city underwater.
The storm’s devastation continued to create problems in Texas. Early Thursday morning, a chemical plant in Crosby – 25 miles northeast of Houston – reported two explosions, and residents evacuated within a 1.5-mile square radius.
- Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas on August 27, 2017.
- REUTERS/Richard Carson
The “relentless, torrential” rain has moved east, and forecasters expect it to fizzle out by Saturday.
The federal Weather Prediction Center said Tennessee, Kentucky, the southeastern tip of Indiana, southern Ohio, and West Virginia could see 2 to 5 inches of rain from the storm through Saturday. Totals in isolated areas could reach 6 to 8 inches from western Tennessee to central Kentucky.
At 4 p.m. CDT on Thursday, Harvey was moving northeast across Mississippi at 20 mph, leaving flooding and destruction in its wake. The center of the storm was sitting about 109 miles north of Jackson.
The storm surge – the quick rise in water caused by a hurricane’s strong winds – crested several feet at the height of the storm on the Texas coast. By Thursday, all local storm surge warnings had ended.
The National Weather Service called the rainfall event “unprecedented“, and while the National Hurricane Center’s warnings of “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” have subsided, the floodwaters in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana will take days, if not a week, to retreat.
Harvey’s devastating hurricane-force winds, storm surge on the Gulf Coast, and landmark flooding inland combined to make it a catastrophic event for Texas.
Officials expect more deaths to be confirmed as Texas and Louisiana dig out from the worst storm in over a decade. Houston police Chief Art Acevedo told The Associated Press on Monday that he was “really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find” when the floodwaters recede.
The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that a police Sgt. Steve Perez, a 60-year-old man who had been on the force for 34 years, died in his patrol car after he took a wrong turn and got caught in the high water.
Long said in a press conference Monday (and reiterated on Wednesday) that crews were still focusing on rescue and recovery and would have to wait until the storm passed to fully evaluate the damage. Flooding and debris on roadways are still keeping emergency crews from reaching some places.
On Thursday, Houston firefighters started going door-to-door in order to search for survivors and survey the destruction. The Texas Department of Public Safety reported that at least 37,000 homes had sustained major damage and that 7,000 were destroyed.
Accounts of destruction in the areas hit hardest by Harvey have been steadily emerging.
Emergency crews plucked people from rooftops using aircraft, dump trucks, and boats as the floodwaters rose.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said 911 emergency services in the city had received over 56,000 calls by Monday. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on Wednesday that 8,500 people had been rescued statewide.
The Associated Press estimated that the storm knocked out power for about 300,000 residents over the weekend, and that there were still 107,000 power outages in Texas on Wednesday afternoon. Energy companies were working hard to restore power.
Turner announced a curfew on Tuesday night, extending from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday, amid reports of looting, armed robberies and people impersonating police officers.
Near Port Arthur, Texas, a city located about 90 miles east of Houston in Jefferson County, over 26 inches of rain were recorded on Tuesday alone. Residents in the area were desperate to escape, and 150 boats came to find them. Mayor Derrick Freeman told CBS News that 20,000 homes had as much as 6 feet of water in them.
The coastal city of Rockport, Texas, located near the point where the hurricane initially made landfall, sustained extreme damage. Residents have been told it is not safe to return for the time being (a mandatory evacuation was put in place there). Mayor Charles Wax of Rockport told CNN there had “been widespread devastation.”
As the storm approached Friday, Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios of Rockport requested that people who did not evacuate write their names and Social Security numbers on their arms in case rescuers later needed to identify them.
- A Rockport, Texas, firefighter went door-to-door on Saturday looking for people who may need help after Hurricane Harvey passed through.
- Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Harvey could cause up to $75 billion in damage, Enki Research estimated – and other projections are even higher.
The Category 4 storm Hurricane Ike, the most recent major hurricane to hit the Texas Gulf Coast, caused $38 billion in damage in 2008. When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, it caused over $100 billion in damage.
Why Harvey’s hurricane category didn’t tell the full story
Hal Needham, a hurricane scientist at Louisiana State University, wrote in a blog post on the weather site WXshift that a storm’s category doesn’t fully convey how dangerous rainfall could be and how much damage it could cause.
“Hurricanes and tropical storms throw three hazards at us: wind, rainfall, and storm surge,” he wrote. “Think of the impacts separately. Storms with weaker winds are more likely to stall and dump heavier rainfall. This shocks people, as it would seem intuitive that a Category 5 hurricane would tend to dump more rain than a Category 1 hurricane. But the opposite is true.”
While strong winds can rip shingles off roofs and tear down power lines, flooding often causes more widespread, costlier damage – and can be more dangerous for humans. The scale used to distinguish a hurricane from a tropical storm is based solely on maximum sustained wind, but Needham explained that “storms are too complex to define by one number.”
- Ana Pelisson/Business Insider
Trump’s ‘first serious’ crisis
Hurricane Harvey is Donald Trump’s “first serious” crisis from a natural disaster as president. He flew to Corpus Christi Tuesday morning with first lady Melania Trump to survey the damage and relief efforts, and made a stop in Austin to attend a briefing on emergency operations from Texas leadership.
“We want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it,” Trump said at a press conference alongside Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “This was of epic proportion. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this.”
How Texas and Louisiana prepared
Thousands of Texas residents, many in the towns of Port Aransas, Port O’Connor, and Corpus Christi, near where the hurricane first made landfall, evacuated before the storm. The Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority began busing evacuees to San Antonio on Thursday.
Houston didn’t order evacuations before the storm hit, and only issued orders in some areas of Harris County on Monday and Tuesday. Jeff Masters, a meteorologist at The Weather Company who cofounded the weather-data website Weather Underground, recommended evacuating only if local emergency experts said to do so. Many of the deaths during Hurricane Rita in 2005 occurred as people tried to evacuate.
- Residents wade through floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Beaumont Place, Houston on August 28, 2017.
- Jonathan Bachman/Reuters
Abbott declared a state of disaster August 23 for 30 Texas counties, then added 20 counties to that declaration on Saturday and another four on Sunday, freeing up state money and resources to respond to the storm.
He also issued a federal disaster declaration in 33 counties, which Trump approved. Trump has approved emergency disaster declarations in both Texas and Louisiana, directing federal aid toward the affected areas.
On Monday morning, Abbott activated the entire Texas National Guard of 12,000 people, and increased the number deployed to 24,000 National Guard troops on Thursday.
Before the storm hit, the American Red Cross opened pop-up shelters throughout Houston and San Antonio. Dallas opened shelters as well, and Mayor Mike Rawlings invited those stranded to seek refuge in a press conference Tuesday morning.
Turner, Houston’s mayor, said Tuesday that more than 9,000 people were seeking shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the largest shelter that has been opened so far. It has a 5,000-cot capacity.
The Health and Human Services Department deployed assets to Texas and Louisiana ahead of Harvey’s landfall, moving six teams of emergency medical responders to the Dallas area as well as teams to support medical personnel in both states.
FEMA said it readied over 4.6 million meals, more than 5.1 million liters of water, and 15,000 federal staff members for the storm response.
Long, the FEMA administrator, recommended that people seeking to help those affected by the storm donate to an organization on the site www.nvoad.org.