HOUSTON – Catastrophic flooding triggered by Tropical Storm Harvey inundated Houston on Sunday, forcing residents of the fourth most populous U.S. city to flee their homes in boats or hunker down in anticipation of several more days of “unprecedented” rainfall.
Harvey came ashore late on Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years and has killed at least two people. The death toll is expected to rise as the storm triggers additional tidal surges and tornadoes, with parts of the region expected to see a year’s worth of rainfall in the span of a week.
Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson
The storm caused chest-deep flooding on some streets in Houston as rivers and channels overflowed their banks. More than 30 inches (76 cm) of rain had fallen in parts of Houston in the past 48 hours, the National Weather Service said on Sunday, with more on the way.
The storm struck at the heart of the country’s oil and gas industry, forcing operators to close several refineries and evacuate and close offshore platforms.
“What we’re seeing is the most devastating flood event in Houston’s recorded history. We’re seeing levels of rainfall that are unprecedented,” said Steve Bowen, chief meteorologist at reinsurance firm Aon Benfield.
Total precipitation could reach 50 inches (127 cm) in some coastal areas of Texas by the end of the week, or the average rainfall for an entire year. The center of Harvey was about 105 miles (170 km) from Houston and was forecast to arc slowly toward the city through Wednesday.
People in Houston and other areas of Texas were asked not to leave their homes, even if they flooded, as roads were impassable.
President Donald Trump plans to go to Texas on Tuesday to survey damage from the storm, a White House spokeswoman said on Sunday.
The Gulf is home to about nearly half of the nation’s refining capacity, and the reduced supply could affect gasoline supplies across the U.S. Southeast and other parts of the country. Shutdowns extended across the coast, including Exxon Mobil’s Baytown refinery, the second largest U.S. refinery.
Gasoline futures rose as much as 7 percent in early trading on Sunday evening, and heating oil futures, a proxy for distillates like diesel fuel, were up as much as 3 percent, as supplies are expected to be curtailed.
All Houston port facilities will be closed on Monday because of the weather threat, a port spokeswoman said on Sunday night.
The swift rise of floodwaters surprised authorities, and Houston residents with boats were asked to help with rescues. Emergency services told the city’s 2.3 million inhabitants to climb onto the roofs of houses, if necessary, to escape the water.
“The water was right at our door,” said Jasmine Melendez, a 23-year-old Houston mother of three, including a week-old infant. “We were also worried about the kids, especially the baby.”
Harvey hit Texas as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 miles per hour (210 kph), the strongest storm to hit the state since 1961. As of Sunday evening, about 250,000 people were without power, but Centerpoint Energy, which serves Houston, said it could not give an accurate estimate because flooding was preventing crews from reaching customers.
Two deaths were confirmed so far – one in Rockport, 30 miles (48 km) north of Corpus Christi, and in west Houston on Saturday. The Twitter account for Harris County 911 said people should not call if their lives were not threatened.
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby airports canceled all commercial flights on Sunday. The Ben Taub Hospital in Houston’s Medical Center was evacuated on Sunday. An American Red Cross emergency shelter was forced to shut because of flooding and the group opened two more.
Houston’s schools were scheduled to close for the week, the school district said on Twitter. ConocoPhillips will close on Monday and Tuesday, the company said.
Trump, facing the first big U.S. natural disaster since he took office in January, signed a disaster proclamation on Friday, triggering federal relief efforts. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Sunday that 50 counties had been declared state disaster areas.
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