AS Harvey’s winds die down, trouble for Texas may have just begun with forecasts for unprecedented flooding across the heart of US energy production and in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
Harvey smashed ashore as a Category 4 hurricane last Friday near Rockport, Texas. Two deaths and 14 injured have been attributed to the storm, which has also halted about one quarter of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and 5 percent of US refining capacity.
Its second act could be worse as Harvey stalls and promises to dump feet-high of rain onto Texas for the next few days.
“This is catastrophic,” said Greg Waller, a service coordination hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s West Gulf River Forecast Center in Fort Worth, Texas. “When we say record setting it means you cannot use history on your side because the rivers have never been this high before.”
Damage from the initial strike won’t tell the whole story, said Chuck Watson, director of research and development, at Enki Holdings Llc. in Savannah, Georgia. “If it was a traditional hurricane it would be a $2- billion storm, maybe $3 billion, but that is not what this storm is about,” Watson said.
Harvey was the strongest storm to hit the US since 2004. After making landfall, it was downgraded to a tropical storm and came to a near-standstill near the town of Victoria, Texas.
Harvey is flooding a region that has a cluster of refineries that process 5 million barrels of oil a day. About 1 million barrels a day of crude and condensate refining capacity in Texas have been shut by companies, including Valero Energy Corp., according to company statements, government releases and people familiar with the situation.
Its path through the Gulf shuttered 24 percent of oil production, along with the port of Corpus Christi, which ships the largest amount of US crude overseas.
In addition to the energy threat, crops and livestock may struggle to cope with rising waters, while airlines have canceled flights at multiple Texas airports.
At least 1,121 inbound and outbound flights were canceled last Saturday from Texas airports in Houston, Dallas, Corpus Christi, Austin and San Antonio, according FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking company.
At least another 1,214 were scrubbed for Sunday. At least 226,330 customers were without power across the state, according to a Bloomberg survey of electric utility outage maps as of 9 p.m. local time. The drop in electricity demand could depress natural gas prices.
Harvey’s position is allowing it to pull moisture-laden air off the Gulf, called a feeder band, which will help keep it alive and promises more moisture for Houston, said Dan Pydynowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.
“That feeder band is going to remain in the general vicinity of Houston perhaps through Monday or even beyond,” Pydynowski said. “This is going to flood areas the don’t typically flood. It is going to have a tremendous impact on businesses, homes, property and the ability to travel in the entire Houston area.”
From 15 to 25 inches of rain is forecast across the entire region, with some areas getting as much as 40 inches, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory issued around 10 p.m. local time.
Harvey sent thousands of residents along the coast fleeing and caused Gov. Greg Abbott to declare an emergency.
President Donald J. Trump approved a major disaster declaration, making federal assistance available to supplement state and local recovery efforts. The US Environmental Protection Agency waived certain fuel requirements for gasoline and diesel supplies in Texas, including the Dallas-Fort Worth area, to allay concerns of fuel shortages.
If the storm does significant damage to the refineries in the region, or causes the Colonial pipeline to go offline, the effects could ripple to other parts of the country that rely heavily on the Gulf Coast for fuel supplies. Gasoline futures settled at a three-week high Friday as the storm approached.
Harvey spun deeper into Texas and unloaded extraordinary amounts of rain last Saturday after the once-fearsome hurricane crashed into vulnerable homes and businesses along the coastline in a blow.
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 100 centimeters of rain on cities, including dangerously flood-prone Houston, the nation’s fourth largest.
In the island community of Port Aransas, population 3,800, officials were unable to fully survey the town because of “massive” damage. The 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 intersection. 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,” Aransas County Spokesman Larry Sinclair said.
Rockport Mayor Charles “C.J.” Wax told The Weather Channel that the city’s emergency-response system had been hampered by the loss of cellphone service and other forms of communication.
A day earlier, Rockport Mayor Pro Tem 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 C.H. “Burt” Mills Jr. said. A second person died in flooding in Harris County, where Houston is located.
Gary Norman, a spokesman for the Houston emergency operations center, said late last Saturday that the person was a woman appeared to have gotten out of her vehicle in high water, though authorities had not confirmed a cause of death. She was found by neighbors about 27 meters away from her vehicle, and Norman said she was pronounced dead at the scene by a doctor who was in the area.
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 statewide. Gov. Greg Abbott said it would probably be several days before electricity is restored.
Meanwhile, the storm was barely moving. Rainfall totals varied across the region, with Corpus Christi and Galveston receiving around 8 centimeters; Houston, 18 cm; and Aransas 25 cm. Tiny Austwell got 38 cm.
In Houston authorities were pleading with people not to leave their homes as a flood emergency was declared. “The streets are treacherous,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Elsewhere in the storm’s immediate aftermath, the Coast Guard had rescued 20 people from boats and barges in distress, said Capt. Tony Hahn, commander of the Corpus Christi sector.
The Corpus Christi port was closed with extensive damage. Because the city is the third-largest petrochemical port in the nation, the agency will be on the lookout for spills, Hahn said.
Bloomberg News and AP
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