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26 August 2017

Texas braces for monster storm

A map of the Texas Coast is projected on a screen as an emergency response co-ordinator warns of the approach of Hurricane Harvey. Picture: AP

HURRICANE Harvey – a Category Four monster predicted to be the worst story system to hit the mainland US for a decade – has made landfall.

The National Hurricane Center said the eye of the hurricane made landfall about 10pm local time (1pm AEST) about 48km east-northeast of Corpus Christi between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas, bringing with it 215km/h sustained winds (gusting up to 270km/h) and flooding rains.

As many as six million people were believed to be in Harvey’s path, as is the heart of America’s oil refining operations.

While it has since been downgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 1 hurricane, it continues to hammer populated areas with strong winds and is dumping torrents of rain over hundreds of kilometres of coastline.

Nearly 25cm of rain had already fallen in a few areas in southeastern Texas. The town of Rockport appeared to be one of the hardest hit by Harvey’s punch, hours after the mayor told anyone staying to gouge their names on their arms for identification in case of death or injury.

Residents are braced for what forecasters predicted will be life-threatening storm surges – basically walls of water moving inland.

The intense weather system is expected to linger over south-west Texas – trapped between two high pressure systems – for at least three days.

Harvey’s approach sent tens of thousands of residents fleeing inland, hoping to escape the wrath of a menacing storm that threatens not only the coast but a wide swath of Texas that is home to oil refineries, chemical plants and dangerously flood-prone Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city. No deaths were immediately confirmed in the hours after Harvey’s arrival, but officials noted emergency crews couldn’t get out in the dark in many places due to high winds and driving rain.

TEXAS STARTS TO ASSESS DAMAGE

Emergency personnel in Aransas County, Texas, are assessing damage reports from Hurricane Harvey with dawn still several hours away.

So far most reports of damage have come from the city of Rockport, a coastal city of about 10,000 people that was directly in Harvey’s path.

One woman has posted a video of the heavy seas which she says sank the tugboat her husband was aboard off the coast of Rockport. He had earlier managed to contact her saying he and the crew of two tugboats had abandoned their vessel, and had lashed themselves to the barges they had been towing. They have not been heard of since.

Rockport Volunteer Fire Department spokeswoman Gillian Cox has told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that the roof of Rockport’s high school has partially caved in.

Rockport City Manager Kevin Carruth tells the newspaper that the courthouse in the city about 48 kilometers northeast of Corpus Christi also has sustained major damage. Carruth says that a cargo trailer is halfway in the building.

He says 10 people have been taken to the county’s jail for assessment and treatment after the roof of a senior housing complex collapsed. Rockport’s historic downtown area also has seen heavy damage, he says.

Volunteer Fire Department Chief Steve Sims says there are about 15 volunteer firefighters hunkered down at the city’s fire station waiting for conditions to improve enough for their vehicles to safely travel and to assess the damage to the city of about 10,000 people.

“There’s nothing we can do at this moment. We are anxious to get out there and make assessments, but we’re hunkered down for now,” he said.

“We’ve heard rumours of 1000 different things, we can’t confirm anything because we haven’t seen anything. We know we’ve got a lot of problems, but we don’t know what yet.” Sims said power, internet and most mobile phone service was out in the town where about two-thirds of people evacuated.

Officials about 16 kilometers away in Aransas Pass say the Harbor Master Building along its coast has been destroyed. The Aransas Pass Police Department posted a video on its Facebook page of the building folding up from the high speed winds.

In Corpus Christi, the major city closest to the storm’s center, wind whipped palm trees and stinging sheets of horizontal rain slapped against hotels and office buildings along the city’s seawall as the storm made landfall.

Melissa Munguia, deputy emergency management coordinator in Nueces County, which includes Corpus Christi, said that it could be hours before crews could fully assess the damage in coastal communities.

Some 200,000 people are without power in Corpus Christi and surrounding areas.

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard has pulled 12 people off a tugboat via helicopter under extreme wind north of Port Aransas after the vessel lost power.

STORM WARNING

Hundreds of thousands of people on the US Gulf Coast were urged to flee the path of the storm. Patrick Rios, the mayor pro term in the coastal town of rockport said residents who chose to stay should write their Social Security numbers on their arms.

Harvey was upgraded to a Category four system about three and a half hours before it made landfall.

A sign blows in the wind after being partially torn from its frame in Corpus Christi, Texas. Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

A sign blows in the wind after being partially torn from its frame in Corpus Christi, Texas. Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFPSource:AFP

A motorist drives through heavy rain before Harvey hits Corpus Christi. Picture: AFP / Marlk Ralston

A motorist drives through heavy rain before Harvey hits Corpus Christi. Picture: AFP / Marlk RalstonSource:AFP

A power generator tips in front of Texas' Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi. Picture: Courtney Sacco /Corpus Christi Caller-Times via AP

A power generator tips in front of Texas’ Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi. Picture: Courtney Sacco /Corpus Christi Caller-Times via APSource:AP

Strong winds batter seaside houses on the Texas coast. Picture: AFP / Marlk Ralston

Strong winds batter seaside houses on the Texas coast. Picture: AFP / Marlk RalstonSource:AFP

Earlier, Mr Trump said on Twitter he’s encouraging “everyone in the path of HurricaneHarvey to heed the advice & orders of their local and state officials.”

His tweet included a link with more information on the storm.

This NASA image from August 25, 2017, taken by NASA astronaut Jack Fischer shows Hurricane Harvey from the cupola module aboard the International Space Station. Picture: AFP/NASA

This NASA image from August 25, 2017, taken by NASA astronaut Jack Fischer shows Hurricane Harvey from the cupola module aboard the International Space Station. Picture: AFP/NASASource:AFP

Waves pound the shore from approaching Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas. Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

Waves pound the shore from approaching Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas. Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFPSource:AFP

Mr Trump was briefed on the storm earlier in the day and was expected to monitor Harvey during the weekend at Camp David.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott suggested people in Houston should head north, but Judge Ed Emmett, the top elected official of Harris County (which includes Houston and many of its suburbs) said he wouldn’t call for an evacuation.

Mr Abbott warned that Harvey was “turning into a very complex and dangerous hurricane.”

“We can obviously tell already at this stage this is going to be a very major disaster,” he said.

Officials said rain could inundate Houston roads and neighborhoods as early as Saturday night.

The USA’s fourth biggest city, Houston is notoriously flood-prone and forecast to receive steady rain for several days into next week.

Corpus Christi firefighters help an elderly woman walk to a bus headed for San Antonio at an evacuation center in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Friday. Picture: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Corpus Christi firefighters help an elderly woman walk to a bus headed for San Antonio at an evacuation center in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Friday. Picture: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via APSource:AP

Mr Abbott told reporters he had requested Mr Trump to make the disaster declaration in order to “trigger additional help and assistance from the federal government.”

He expressed concern that not as many people were evacuating compared with previous storms as Harvey bore down on the state.

The US Weather Service warned residents of Houston and Galveston to “prepare for life threatening rainfall flooding … Small streams, creeks, canals, and ditches may become dangerous rivers. Flood control systems and barriers may become stressed.”

A shuttered local business has a sign for Hurricane Harvey. Picture: AP Photo/Eric Gay

A shuttered local business has a sign for Hurricane Harvey. Picture: AP Photo/Eric GaySource:AP

Residents wait inside the Corpus Christi Natatorium to board a bus to evacuate to San Antonio. Picture: Courtney Sacco /Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Residents wait inside the Corpus Christi Natatorium to board a bus to evacuate to San Antonio. Picture: Courtney Sacco /Corpus Christi Caller-TimesSource:AP

Jim Gilbert boards up a window at his home in Magnolia. He and his wife plan to stay through Hurricane Harvey and watch the storm. Picture: Ana Ramirez/The Victoria Advocate via AP

Jim Gilbert boards up a window at his home in Magnolia. He and his wife plan to stay through Hurricane Harvey and watch the storm. Picture: Ana Ramirez/The Victoria Advocate via APSource:AP

Shoppers pass empty shelves along the bottled water isle in a Houston grocery store. Picture: David J. Phillip

Shoppers pass empty shelves along the bottled water isle in a Houston grocery store. Picture: David J. PhillipSource:AP

TEXANS PREPARE FOR THE WORST

In the day leading up to Harvey’s landfall, local television footage showed supermarket aisles plucked bare, highways clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic, and long lines snaking outside gas stations as the country’s top emergency official urged coastal dwellers to get to safety.

“Texas is about to have a very significant disaster,” Brock Long, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told CNN. “Their window to evacuate is rapidly coming to a close,” he said.

Corpus Christi – a major oil refining center – issued voluntary evacuation orders, while the evacuation was made mandatory in the nearby coastal hamlets of Port Arkansas and Arkansas Pass.

“For anyone who has not already evacuated, please hurry to do so,” the city of Portland, Texas warned on its website in capital letters.

Many residents were bent on sitting the storm out, however, like in Corpus Christi where people were seen packing sandbags to protect their homes from flooding.

Social media video showed shoppers scrambling to stock up on a dwindling supply of water bottles.

Brownsville, Texas: residents prepare for Hurricane Harvey. Picture: AP

Brownsville, Texas: residents prepare for Hurricane Harvey. Picture: APSource:AP

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