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26 August 2017

Worst storm to hit US in a decade slams into Texas

A power generator tips in Corpus Christi, Texas. Picture: AP

BLOCKED roads are preventing emergency services from reaching the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Harvey’s enormous winds as a new threat emerges.

Harvey — a Category Four monster predicted to be the worst storm system to hit the mainland US for a decade — made landfall about 1pm AEST.

The National Hurricane Centre said the eye of the hurricane made landfall about 10pm local time 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.

US President Donald Trump praised the work of new FEMA administrator Brock Long

He said he was closely monitoring Hurricane Harvey from Camp David.

Forecasts now expect as much as 30 inches (. 76 metres) of rain to fall by Wednesday, with some areas getting as much as 40 inches (1 metre), according to the hurricane centre.

Meanwhile, the storm surge could bring flooding of 2 to 4 metres to a coastal area that includes Matagorda Island and Port O’Connor.

As dawn breaks over Texas, nearly 25cm of rain has already fallen in a few areas in southeastern districts.

Former US Congressman Jason Chaffetz issued a reminder that many of the dangers come after hurricanes hit with rising flood waters and people starting to venture out of their homes.

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. Emergency services from surrounding areas are reporting they are unable to reach Rockport because of damaged roads, flooding water, fallen trees and downed powerlines.

The intense weather system is expected to linger over southwest 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 as people wake up after a wild night.

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 kilometres northeast of Corpus Christi also has sustained major damage. Mr 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.”

Mr Sims said power, internet and most mobile phone service was out in the town where about two-thirds of people evacuated.

Officials about 16 kilometres 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 centre, 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 co-ordinator 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.

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