HOUSTON — More than 30,000 people across the Gulf Coast are likely to seek temporary shelter as Tropical Storm Harvey continues to drench southeastern Texas and Louisiana with heavy rains and surging floodwaters. At least eight people have been confirmed dead from the storm as of Monday afternoon.
“We’re not at recovery yet,” FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long said at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday, noting that the storm was a “landmark event” that had affected as many as 50 Texas counties, and that more than 450,000 people could end up seeking disaster assistance. “This shelter mission is going to be a very heavy lift.”
As the rain kept pouring, as many as 13 million people, from Houston to New Orleans, were under flood watches and warnings.
“It’s the hurricane that won’t die,” said William Patzert, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The trap is close enough to the Gulf that it keeps siphoning off energy and moisture from the very, very warm waters of the Gulf. Until the large-scale pattern changes, it will continue to soak Texas.”
The National Weather Service said Monday that parts of Harris County, which includes Houston, had seen 30 inches of rain. An additional 15 to 25 inches are expected across the upper Texas coast, with isolated storm totals as high as 50 inches.
“We need to get people to shelters and make sure they are good and have what they need,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said at a Monday press briefing, noting the Red Cross has had trouble getting supplies to their shelters.
Already flooded, Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, braced for yet more water as the Army Corps of Engineers opened two swollen flood-control reservoirs early Monday. The Corps said it needed to undertake a controlled release of water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs to limit the scope of the disaster.
Even with the controlled release, the reservoirs were rising at a rate of 4 inches an hour, said Edmund Russo, deputy district engineer for Programs and Project Management for the Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District.
“Hurricane Harvey has effectively turned South and Central Texas into a lake the size of Michigan,” Brad Kieserman, vice president of disaster operations and logistics for the Red Cross, told NPR. “This is as catastrophic as you could possibly imagine from a Category 4 storm.”
Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane at its peak. It has since been downgraded to a tropical storm. But the hurricane scale is based on wind speed, not volume of water, and Harvey has continued to funnel tremendous amounts of moisture into Texas.
As homes across the metro region filled with waist-deep water, rescuers scoured flooded inner city streets and subdivisions in kayaks, fishing boats and inflatable rafts, plucking families to safety.
At a Sunday evening news conference, Mayor Sylvester Turner said that 911 operators had received 56,000 calls since 10 p.m. Saturday. Police and fire departments had received nearly 6,000 calls for rescues and rescued more than 1,000 people.
With forecasters predicting that the Brazos River, which runs southwest of Houston, would crest at 59 feet – topping its historical record of 54.7 feet– local city and county officials on Sunday urged residents in low-lying areas to leave their homes to find safer ground.
“Evacuate immediately,” the city of Rosenberg urged residents on Twitter.
On Sunday night, Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert issued mandatory evacuations orders for more districts.
“Fifty-nine feet represents at least an 800 year flood event and there’s no levee designed to prevent an 800 year flood,” he said at a news conference.
More than 100,000 residents in Fort Bend – roughly 20 percent of the county’s population – were under voluntary and mandatory evacuations, he said.
By early Monday, Harvey’s center was 25 miles northeast of Port O’Connor and moving slowly southeast towards the mid-Texas coast at 3 mph. On Tuesday, it is expected to turn and move slowly northeast.
In Houston, Police Chief Art Acevedo urged residents to be patient, saying it was still extremely difficult to reach those who were stranded in flooded homes.
“You know, the dams are about to open and that’s not music to my ears, I can tell you that much,” Acevedo said on a livestream video late Sunday as he cruised the city’s southwest freeway in the dark amid torrential rain.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “They said it was going to be a five-day event, and I’m telling you, Harvey’s going to make us sweat every single day. Just continue to pray for our city and the people that we’re serving and the men and women that are trying to save them.”
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service warned the flood threat is spreading east into neighboring Louisiana, bringing up to 25 inches of rain in the southwest part of the state.
President Donald Trump declared “emergency conditions” in Louisiana on Monday after Gov. John Bel Edwards sent a letter requesting an emergency disaster declaration for the state. Trump is planning to visit flooded areas of Texas on Tuesday.
Just a few inches of rain could cause serious problems in New Orleans, which is still recovering from flooding after thunderstorms earlier this month overwhelmed the city’s drainage system
Hundreds of people who were stranded at Houston’s Hobby Airport arrived in Dallas late Sunday on specially approved “rescue flights.”
David Best, 60, of Cedar Hill outside Dallas, got stuck after a week-long vacation with friends in Belize. He slept on the floor, ate rationed burritos from the only restaurant open — Pappasito’s — and hoped for relief.
“I felt sorry for the airport employees who were there and got trapped,” he said after his Southwest flight arrived at Dallas’s Love Field. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to be over for some time. They’re talking about that storm coming right up through the center of Houston again.”
(Times staff writers Pearce and Hennessy-Fiske reported from Houston and special correspondent Jarvie from Atlanta. Times graphics and data visualization journalist Paul Duginski in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)