Tropical storm Harvey: ‘Catastrophic’ floodwaters see thousands scramble to rooftops

Five people reported dead; over 1,000 rescued as 'unprecedented' rain expected to last days

Eyewitness footage captures the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, the most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years. Video: Reuters

 

Rising floodwaters from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey sent thousands of people scrambling on to rooftops or higher ground in Houston, overwhelming rescuers who fielded countless desperate calls for help.

At least five deaths and more than a dozen injuries were reported on Sunday.  Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday but was no less deadly.

A fleet of helicopters, airboats and high-water vehicles confronted flooding so widespread that authorities had trouble pinpointing the worst areas.

The water rose high enough to begin filling second floors. People used inflatable beach toys, rubber rafts and even air mattresses to get through the rising waters to safety. Others simply waded while carrying plastic trash bags stuffed with their belongings.

Emergency services rescusedmore than 1,000 people around Houston on Sunday as the storm hit the region, with “unprecedented” rain expected to last for days. 

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez used Twitter to field calls for assistance. Among those seeking help was a woman who posted: “I have two children with me and the water is swallowing us up.”

A mobile home lies split open in the Paradise Lagoons RV Resort on August 26, 2017 in Aransas Pass. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
A mobile home lies split open in the Paradise Lagoons RV Resort on August 26, 2017 in Aransas Pass. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said authorities had received more than 2,000 calls for help and would be opening the city’s main convention centre as a shelter.

‘Very serious and unprecedented storm’

“I don’t need to tell anyone this is a very, very serious and unprecedented storm,” Mr Turner told a news conference. “We have several hundred structural flooding reports. We expect that number to rise pretty dramatically.”

Rainfall of more than 10cm per hour (4 inches) resulted in water levels higher than in any recent floods and higher than during Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001, said Jeff Linder of flood control district in Harris County, which includes Houston. Rescue came by land, water and air.

A picture posted on Twitter of elderly residents in La Vita Bella nursing home in Texas prompted an emergency evacuation of the facility, ABC news reported.

The Coast Guard, which received more than 300 requests for help, deployed five helicopters and asked for additional aircraft from New Orleans.

Staff at a Houston television station broadcasting live coverage of the floods had to evacuate after water from the nearby Buffalo Bayou started to gush into the building.

Hurricane Harvey damage is seen in Bayside, Texas. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Hurricane Harvey damage is seen in Bayside, Texas. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, said the government expected to conduct a “mass care mission” and predicted that the aftermath of the storm would require FEMA’s involvement for years.

Flooding and a damaged home are seen after Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas. Photograph: Alex Scott/Bloomberg
Flooding and a damaged home are seen after Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas. Photograph: Alex Scott/Bloomberg

“This disaster’s going to be a landmark event,” he said.

President Donald Trump is due to visit Texas on Tuesday. 

The rescues unfolded a day after the hurricane settled over the Texas coastline. It was blamed for killing at least two people and injuring up to 14.

Deaths

Anxiety ran high throughout the region between Corpus Christi and Houston because some of the areas with the greatest hurricane damage were inaccessible to rescuers.

And the forecast for days of steady rain threatened to inundate the region’s flat landscape with as much as 40 inches (100 centimetres).

A stranded motorist escapes floodwaters in Texas on Sunday. Photograph: Nick Oxford/Reuters
A stranded motorist escapes floodwaters in Texas on Sunday. Photograph: Nick Oxford/Reuters

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.

One person was killed in Aransas County, county Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills Jr. said.

Another person — a woman who tried to get out of her vehicle in high water — died in flooding in Harris County, where Houston is located.

Meanwhile, the storm was barely moving. Rainfall totals varied across the region, with Galveston receiving around 20 cm (8 inches), Houston 28 cm (11 inches) and Aransas 25 cm (10 inches ). Tiny Austwell got 38 cm (15 inches).

The fiercest hurricane to hit the US in more than a decade came ashore late Friday as a mammoth Category 4 storm with 209 kph (130 mph) winds.

Harvey weakened on Saturday to a tropical storm. By Sunday morning the system was centred about 105km (65 miles) south-east of San Antonio, with maximum sustained winds of about 72.42 kph (45 mph), according to the National Hurricane Centre, which described the flooding as “catastrophic.”

AP