HOUSTON — Floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey, which has already killed at least seven people in Texas and was expected to drive tens of thousands from their homes, will likely rise in the coming days, officials warned on Monday as heavy rains continued to pound the Gulf Coast.
National Guard troops, police officers, rescue workers and civilians raced in helicopters, boats and special high-water trucks to rescue the hundreds of people still stranded in and around Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
The storm was the most powerful hurricane to strike Texas in more than 50 years when it came ashore Friday near Corpus Christi, 220 miles south of Houston, and the worst was far from over as the National Weather Service issued numerous flood warnings across the region.
President Donald Trump plans to go to Texas on Tuesday to survey the damage and may in the future visit Louisiana, where the storm is now dumping rain.
Trump, facing the biggest U.S. natural disaster since he took office in January, has signed disaster proclamations for Texas and Louisiana, triggering federal relief efforts.
Harvey has killed at least six people in Harris County, where Houston is located, said Tricia Bentley, a spokeswoman for the county coroner’s office, including a man who died in a house fire Friday night and an elderly woman driving through flooded streets on the city’s west side the next day.
A 60-year-old woman died in neighboring Montgomery County when a tree fell on her trailer home while she slept, the local medical examiner said on Twitter.
Both of Houston’s major airports were shut down, along with most major highways, rail lines and a hospital, where patients were evacuated over the weekend. As of Monday evening 267,000 Texans were left without power in the southeast corner of the state.
The Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management issued a “shelter in place” warning to residents of La Porte and Shoreacres, about 25 miles east of Houston, after a chemical leak was caused by a ruptured pipeline.
As stunned families surveyed the wreckage of destroyed homes and roads flooded or clogged with debris, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned Houstonians to brace for a long recovery.
“We need to recognize this is going to be a new and different normal for this entire region,” Abbott said.
Harvey was expected to linger over Texas’ Gulf Coast for the next few days, dropping another 10 to 20 inches of rain, with threats of flooding extending into Louisiana.
In scenes evoking the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, police and Coast Guard teams have rescued at least 2,000 people so far, plucking many from rooftops by helicopter, as they urged the hundreds more believed to be marooned in flooded houses to hang towels or sheets outside to alert rescuers.
Harvey’s center was 44 miles from Houston and forecast to arc slowly toward the city through Wednesday, with the worst flooding expected later that day and Thursday.
Schools and office buildings were closed throughout the metropolitan area, home to 6.8 million people, as chest-high water filled some neighborhoods in the low-lying city.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Monday that it was releasing water from the nearby Addicks and Barker reservoirs into Buffalo Bayou, the primary body of water running through Houston.
“The more they release it could go up and it could create even additional problems,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned. But the release was said to be necessary to prevent an uncontrolled surge of water, which Turner said “would be exponentially worse.”
Torrential rain also hit areas more than 150 miles away, swelling rivers and causing a surge that was heading toward the Houston area, where numerous rivers and streams already have been breached. About 5,500 people were in shelters as of Monday morning, city officials said, with Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long forecasting that 30,000 would eventually be housed temporarily in shelters.
Regina Costilla, 48, said she and her 16-year-old son had been rescued from their home by a good Samaritan with a boat. She worried until she was reunited with her husband and their large dog, who had been left behind because they did not fit into the boat.
“I’m not complaining; we’re alive,” Costilla said. “When I saw the forecast of the storm I said I’ll be happy if we get out with our lives.”
Houston did not order an evacuation due to concerns about people being stranded on city highways now consumed by floodwaters, Turner said.
Abbott, who had suggested Friday that people leave the area, declined to second-guess the mayor Monday, telling reporters, “Decisions about evacuations are something that are behind us.”
Gasoline futures hit their highest in two years as Harvey shut down multiple refiners, knocking out about 13 percent of total U.S. refining capacity, based on company reports and Reuters estimates.
Almost half of the U.S. refining capacity is in the Gulf Coast region.
The nation’s second-largest refinery was shut down in Baytown, and the nation’s largest refinery in Port Arthur was weighing shutting down with a final decision expected Tuesday, sources told Reuters.
The floodwaters could destroy as much as $20 billion in insured property, making it one of the costliest storms in history for U.S. insurers, according to Wall Street analysts.