Catastrophic flooding grips Texas, large-scale rescue efforts underway

BY    | Updated: Aug 27, 2017 at 4:55 PM
A vehicle sits half submerged in flood waters in a residential area in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston

A vehicle sits half submerged in flood waters in a residential area in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, on August 27, 2017. Photo by Ernest Scheyder/Reuters

At least five people have been killed in Texas from Hurricane Harvey as rising waters caused by heavy rains continued to grip parts of the state on Sunday, trapping hundreds of residents in their homes and prompting at least one municipality to order a mandatory evacuation.

The tropical storm was expected to bring as much as 50 inches of rain to portions of Texas in the coming days as overwhelmed emergency workers fanned out across the state, using boats, rescue vehicles and helicopters to pick up residents who were trapped.

More than 3,000 state and national service members have been activated to attend to the spate of torrential rains and flooding that have shut down much of Houston and cities across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said during a news conference on Sunday afternoon.

More than 250 roadways were closed Sunday in the state, and Abbott said the residents should expect to see tornadoes lasting through at least Monday.

transportation-map

A map shows flooding and traffic in the Houston area. Image via Google Maps and Houston Transtar

Power outages remain for 316,000 locations in Texas, plus another 75,000 in Houston, even as state and local crews begin the process of cleaning up sections of Corpus Christi and Rockport, which bore much of the brunt of Hurricane Harvey’s Category 4 winds as it touched down on land late Friday night.

“We are still moving hundreds of evacuees to safe locations,” Abbott said, adding that residents should know “the cavalry is coming.”

President Donald Trump plans to travel to Texas on Tuesday, according to a statement released by the White House.

“We continue to keep all of those affected in our thoughts and prayers,” the statement read.

In Houston, more than 1,000 people who were stranded amid heavy flooding were rescued overnight. Flash flood warnings remained in place Sunday morning for the country’s fourth-most populated city.

More than 20 inches of rain had fallen since Saturday morning in the Houston area, with 12 more inches possible by nightfall on Sunday, forecasters said.

The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched seven helicopters and several response boats to aid in rescue efforts, according to a statement. More than 300 search and rescue calls had been received and the Coast Guard requested that those who are trapped climb to their rooftops or seek higher ground and “mark” that they need help. Rescue teams from the National Guard were also dispatched to help with the rescue efforts.

The city of Houston received more than 2,500 calls for assistance from the flooding overnight, officials said. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he encouraged those who were stranded to remain in their homes and avoid making 911 calls to keep lines open for only the most serious situations.

“First responders need to attend to them first,” he said during a news conference on Sunday. “The best way to keep from being stranded is to stay off the streets.”

Officials called for residents with boats or vehicles that can navigate high waters to assist with rescues and Houston’s Ben Taub Hospital began evacuating patients due to flooding.

Hurricane Harvey

Damage to an apartment complex in Victoria, Texas. Photo By Connie Kargbo/PBS NewsHour

As some residents hunkered down waiting for help, Turner said the city would open up Houston’s convention center to offer shelter.

Police in Richmond, Texas, about 30 miles southwest of Houston, announced a mandatory evacuation for flood-prone sections of the city starting at noon local time on Sunday. Images from Harris County, which includes the greater Houston area, showed people using makeshift rafts and walking waist-high in rushing waters to reach safety.

A spokesperson for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department told the Associated Press it was “difficult to pinpoint” which sections of the city were hardest hit by the flooding.

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

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