HOUSTON – Tropical Storm Harvey is slowly heading back toward the Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center reports it is only moving at about three miles per hour with winds around 40 miles per hour. Forecasters say it's drifting off the coast. In the meantime, it continues to dump rain on areas that have already seen as much as 30 inches of rain.
Harvey unleashed havoc across southeast Texas with devastating floods pouring into the nation's fourth-largest city Sunday. Rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground and overwhelmed rescuers who could not keep up with the constant calls for help.
Rescue helicopters landed near flooded freeways, airboats buzzed across submerged neighborhoods and vehicles plowed through flooded intersections.
Some people used kayaks or canoes or swam.
Volunteers joined emergency teams to pull people from their homes threatened by second floor flooding in some areas. The flooding was so widespread that authorities had trouble pinpointing the worst areas. They urged people to get on top of their homes to avoid becoming trapped in attics and to wave sheets or towels to draw attention to their location.
Judging from federal disaster declarations, the storm has so far affected about a quarter of the Texas population, or 6.8 million people in 18 counties.
Forecasters estimate that 15 trillion gallons of rain have fallen so far, and WeatherBell, a private forecasting firm, predicts up to 6 trillion gallons more rain could fall on the state by Wednesday, based on forecasts.
'God help Texans with this storm' CBN News Crew pic.twitter.com/cfTVTT5u79
— CBN News (@CBNNews) August 27, 2017
The deteriorating situation was bound to provoke questions about the conflicting advice given by the governor and Houston leaders before the hurricane. Gov. Greg Abbott urged people to flee from Harvey's path, but the Houston mayor issued no evacuation orders and told everyone to stay home.
"Now is not the time to second-guess the decisions that were made," Abbott, a Republican, said at a news conference in Austin. "What's important is that everybody work together to ensure that we are going to, first, save lives and, second, help people across the state rebuild."
— Erik Rosales (@ErikRosalesCBN) August 27, 2017
"The breadth and intensity of this rainfall is beyond anything experienced before," the National Weather Service said in a statement.
Average rainfall totals will end up around 40 inches for Houston, weather service meteorologist Patrick Burke said.
The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, predicted that the aftermath of the storm would require FEMA's involvement for years.
"This disaster's going to be a landmark event," Long said.
Rescuers had to give top priority to life-and-death situations, leaving many affected families to fend for themselves.
The city's main convention center was quickly opened as a shelter.
Some people used inflatable beach toys, rubber rafts and even air mattresses to get through the water to safety. Others waded while carrying trash bags stuffed with their belongings and small animals in picnic coolers.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner urged drivers to stay off flooded roads to avoid adding to the number of those stranded.
Houston's Emergency Operations Center announced a woman drowned Saturday night when floodwaters apparently swept her away after she exited her car in high water.
The first reported death was in Aransas County, which borders the Gulf of Mexico, when a home caught on fire, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
In addition, there were several reports of tornadoes.
KHOU meteorologist Blake Matthews said radar confirms that a tornado did touch down in the Cypress area near Houston. It damaged several homes and buildings but didn't cause any apparent injuries. The station's viewers posted these videos on Twitter.
— Grayson frable (@grayson_frable) August 26, 2017
— Rob Perillo (@robperillo) August 26, 2017
The coastal community of Rockport, roughly 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, was directly in the storm's path and appears to have sustained the worst damage so far.
Mayor CJ Wax said there was "widespread devastation" with homes and businesses destroyed.
Roads were littered with toppled power lines, debris, and an overturned trailer. Powerful winds tore off the metal siding of the city's high school gym and twisted the auditorium's steel door frame. Additionally, 10 people were taken to the county jail for treatment after another roof collapsed at a nursing home.
Wax said the community got hit "right on the nose."
According to Telegraph News a man who chose not to evacuate said, "The storm sounded like a train with square wheels. It was the most stressful thing I've ever been through. I saw trees going down, roofs blowing off. I've got 300-year-old oak trees down in my yard, a magnolia tree on my roof."
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez used Twitter to field calls for assistance. Among those seeking help was a woman who posted: "I have 2 children with me and the water is swallowing us up."
"Massive" damage prevented officials from fully surveying the island town of Port Aransas.
"I can tell you I have a very bad feeling and that's about it," said Mayor Charles Bujan. He ordered a mandatory evacuation but did not know how many people obeyed.
Port Aransas' police chief told the mayor that the Pioneer Trailer Park is a "100-percent loss" and a search and rescue operation was underway Saturday morning, KIII-TV reported.
Tens of thousands of residents in the overall area did flee the path of the storm as Harvey increased throughout Friday from a Category 2 to a Category 4 storm.
CBN News National Security Correspondent Erik Rosales is on the ground in South Texas.
“Destruction is everywhere. It’s going to a long while before people can get their lives back together again,” said Rosales.
The CBN News team described the scene as pure destruction, with an RV flipped over on its side and downed power lines all around. The storm resulted in about 300,000 power outages statewide. Governor Abbott said it more than likely would take several days before the power is turned back on.
In the video below, Erik describes the destruction at the Rockville Fulton High school.
— Erik Rosales (@ErikRosalesCBN) August 26, 2017
Torrential rain, severe flooding and damaging winds will continue over parts of southeastern Texas as Harvey stalls into next week.
Harvey dumped up to 20 inches of rain in a matter of hours in some places and there are warnings of flash floods.
— FEMA (@fema) August 26, 2017
— Noel Brennan (@Noeltbrennan) August 26, 2017
The White House Response
President Donald Trump met with members of his cabinet Saturday and again on Sunday to discuss Harvey and the days ahead.
The president tweeted Sunday he would visit the area as soon as possible.
I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
Trump told his secretaries and department heads to "stay fully engaged and positioned to support his number one priority of saving lives," according to a statement released by the White House.
Abbott praised Trump for the White House's support before the storm, saying the president really “stepped up.”
Trump also signed a disaster proclamation for Texas late Friday, about an hour before the hurricane made landfall.
Related link for the latest tracking on the storm: weather.com
While residents fled Corpus Christi on Friday, in Houston, local authorities didn't change traffic patterns and urged residents to not make a mass exodus from the city despite the governor's call to evacuate. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says everyone leaving the city at once would just create more problems.
Four hundred doctors, nurses and other medical professionals have been called in from around the country by federal health officials. They also plan to move two 250-bed medical units to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There will be other units available in Dallas, they say.
Meteorologists say Harvey won't just create problems for Texas. They warn it could also cause flooding and dangerous surfs along the Florida and Alabama coasts.
They also say it could spawn tornadoes, and even after it weakens, it will likely go out into the gulf, regain strength and hit Houston again on Wednesday.
Hurricane Charley was the last Category 4 storm to hit the U.S. It came ashore in Florida in August 2004.