At least two dead as Hurricane Harvey spins deeper inland

One-fearsome hurricane Harvey has spun deeper into Texas, unloading extraordinary amounts of rain after crashing into vulnerable homes and businesses along the coastline in a blow that killed at least two people and injured up to 14.

Throughout the region between Corpus Christi and Houston, many people feared that toll was only the beginning.

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 from a storm that could linger for days and unload more than 40ins of rain on cities, including dangerously flood-prone Houston, America's fourth-largest.

In the island community of Port Aransas, with a population of 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.

Rockport's roads were a mess of toppled power poles. A trailer blocked much of one major road and wood framing from ripped-apart houses was strewn along Route 35 on the town's southern end.

Harvey's relentless wind tore the metal sides off the high school gym and twisted the steel door frame of its auditorium.

"We're still in the very infancy stage of getting this recovery started," said Aransas County spokesman Larry Sinclair.

Rockport mayor Charles Wax said the city's emergency response system had been hampered by the loss of mobile phone service and other forms of communication.

A day earlier, Rockport's acting mayor Patrick Rios offered ominous advice, telling people who chose not to evacuate to mark their arms with Sharpie pens, implying that the marks would make it easier for rescuers to identify them.

One person was killed in Aransas County when in a fire at home during the storm, county judge Burt Mills said. A second person died in flooding in Harris County, where Houston is located.

Gary Norman, a spokesman for the Houston emergency operations centre, said the victim was a woman who appeared to have got out of her vehicle in high water. She was found by neighbours about 30 yards away.

Judge Mills also said as many as 14 people suffered minor injuries in his county, including slips and falls, scrapes and a broken leg.

About 300,000 customers were without power across the state and governor Greg Abbott said it would probably be several days before electricity were restored.

Meanwhile, the storm was barely moving.

Rainfall totals varied across the region, with Corpus Christi and Galveston receiving around 3ins, Houston 7ins and Aransas 10ins. Tiny Austwell had 15ins.

In Houston, authorities were pleading with people not to leave their homes as a flood emergency was declared.

"The streets are treacherous," mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Elsewhere in the storm's immediate aftermath, the US Coast Guard rescued 20 people from boats and barges in distress and the Corpus Christi port was closed with extensive damage.

Harvey, the fiercest hurricane to hit the US in more than a decade, came ashore late on Friday local time, about 30 miles north east of Corpus Christi as a mammoth Category 4 storm with 130mph winds.

It weakened to a tropical storm by midday Saturday and at 10pm, its maximum sustained winds had fallen to about 40mph, the National Hurricane Centre said.

But the storm was moving at just 1mph as it dumped torrential rain over an area that included Houston.

The hurricane posed the first major emergency management test of US president Donald Trump's administration.

Mr Trump met his cabinet and other senior administration officials to discuss the national response to the damage and flooding, the White House said.

The president held a video conference from Camp David in which he instructed departments and agencies to "stay fully engaged and positioned to support his number one priority of saving lives".

Mr Trump, who on Friday signed a federal disaster declaration for coastal counties, also reminded department heads that the full impact of the storm would not be apparent for days and praised the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for his handling of the disaster.

In Corpus Christi, the major city closest to the storm's centre, wind whipped palm trees and stinging sheets of horizontal rain slapped against hotels and office buildings along the seawall as the storm made landfall.

Daybreak revealed downed lamp posts and tree limbs and roof tiles torn off buildings.

Along Interstate 45 leaving Galveston, the rain was so intense that drivers stopped under bridges because they could not see in front of them.

Rain fell on Houston at nearly 3ins an hour, leaving some streets and underpasses underwater. The many drainage channels known as bayous that carry excess water to the Gulf were flowing freely and rising.

Francisco Sanchez of the Harris County Emergency Management Office said the storm would be around for a while.

"Someone is going to get those very high rainfall totals," he said. "Hopefully it's not us, but we're in that possibility area."

South of the city, about 4,500 inmates were evacuated from three state prisons in Brazoria County because the nearby Brazos River was rising.

The turbulent weather extended into southern Louisiana, where motorists were warned about the potential for high water, road hazards, high winds and tornadoes.

The last Category 4 storm to hit the US was Hurricane Charley in August 2004 in Florida.

AP


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