Hurricane Harvey: Residents flee Texas coast ahead of powerful storm

Authorities warn residents to shelter from life-threatening winds and flooding

Images taken from the International Space Station cameras capture views of Hurricane Harvey as potentially the biggest hurricane to hit the US mainland in more than a decade prepares to make landfall. Video: NASA

 

Hurricane Harvey intensified on Friday and was poised to hit the mainland United States late on Friday as the most powerful storm in more than a decade and authorities warned residents to shelter from life-threatening winds and flooding.

Businesses closed and lines of cars streamed out of coastal Texas as officials called for residents to flee.

Harvey became a Category 3 hurricane, the third most powerful, the National Hurricane Center said on Friday. Forecasters said the storm would hit land near Corpus Christi, Texas, around 8 pm or 9 pm CDT (1am-2am Irish time), dropping over three feet of rain in some areas along the central Texas coast, and potentially loop back over the Gulf of Mexico before hitting Houston.

“My urgent message to my fellow Texans is that if you live in a region where evacuation has been ordered, you need to heed that advice and get out of harm’s way while you can,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a televised address.

He has warned that Hurricane Harvey “is going to be a very major disaster” and said he had asked US president Donald Trump for a federal disaster declaration.

US gasoline prices spiked as the storm shut down 22 per cent, or 377,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Gulf of Mexico oil production and halted 4.4 per cent of US refinery output, according to the US government.

“We may be looking at unprecedented and major to record flooding,” said forecaster John Tharp of Weather Decision Technologies,

Sea levels may surge as high as 3.7 meters (12 feet) and flood warnings are in effect for Louisiana and northern Mexico, Tharp said.

Petrol stations and grocery stores in the region were packed as residents readied their cars and pantries for any shortages following the storm. Coldplay, the British rock band, canceled a Friday concert in Houston, telling fans it didn’t want to risk anyone’s safety.

‘Pretty stressful’

At a Willis, Texas, station, about 77 km (50 miles) north of Houston, Corey Martinez (40) was heading to Dallas from his Corpus Christi home.

“It has been pretty stressful. We’re just trying to get ahead of the storm,” he said. “We’ve never been through a hurricane before.”

As a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, Harvey could bring winds of 178-208 km/h (111-129 mph) that can uproot trees, rip roofs off homes and disrupt utilities for days. If it maintains its intensity, it would be be the first major hurricane to hit the mainland United States since Hurricane Wilma struck Florida in 2005.

The storm was about 140km (85 miles) off Corpus Christi and packing winds of 110 mph on Friday afternoon, the NHC said. The NHC’s latest tracking model shows the storm sitting southwest of Houston for more than a day, giving the nation’s fourth most populous city a double dose of rain and wind.

“Now is the time to urgently hide from the wind. Failure to adequately shelter may result in serious injury, loss of life, or immense human suffering,” the National Weather Service said.

“Life-threatening and devastating flooding expected near the coast due to heavy rainfall and storm surge,” the NHC said.

President Trump on Friday tweeted: “I encourage everyone in the path of #HurricaneHarvey to heed the advice & orders of their local and state officials.” A White House official said the president was considering a request to issue an emergency declaration, providing federal disaster relief.

The storm’s approach triggered evacuations in south Texas communities and central coast residents were voluntarily leaving the area. Cities canceled classes on Friday and Monday at dozens of schools along the south Texas coast, home to 5.8 million people from Corpus Christi to Galveston.

David Ramirez left his home in Corpus Christi early on Friday to wait out the storm in San Antonio, Texas.

“With the level of storm surge they’re talking about, there isn’t a lot I could do to protect my house,” he said in an interview while awaiting directions to an emergency shelter.

Harvey also forced the cancellation or delay of at least 40 flights in and out of major airports in Texas on Friday, according to Flightaware.com, which tracks airline traffic.

States of disaster declared

“With the level of storm surge they’re talking about, there isn’t a lot I could do to protect my house,” he said in an interview while awaiting directions to an emergency shelter.

Harvey also forced the cancellation or delay of at least 40 flights in and out of major airports in Texas on Friday, according to Flightaware.com, which tracks airline traffic.

Louisiana and Texas declared states of disaster, authorising the use of state resources to prepare. President Trump has been briefed and is ready to provide resources if needed, the White House said.

Harvey is forecast to come ashore as a Category 3 hurricane, the NHC said, the third most powerful on the Saffir-Simpson scale. That would make it the first major hurricane to hit the mainland United States since Hurricane Wilma struck Florida in 2005.

More than 45 percent of the country’s refining capacity is along the US Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation’s crude oil is produced offshore. Ports from Corpus Christi to Texas City, Texas, were closed to incoming vessels.

Reuters