Hurricane Harvey hammers southern Texas as floods, fires plague residents

Hurricane Harvey spawned tornadoes, flooding, fires and widespread power outages across southern Texas early Saturday.

Behind the giant storm, the largest to hit Texas in more than a decade, production on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico remained halted, coastal refineries were idle and thousands of cruise ship customers waited offshore until their vessels were able to dock safely.

A massive fire destroyed at least three homes on Bolivar Peninsula late Friday night, according to 12 News Now. More than 200,000 homes and businesses were reportedly without power.

At least 15,000 people aboard three Carnival Cruise Line ships scheduled to return to Galveston this weekend were delayed or detoured due to the hurricane. The Port of Galveston was closed on Friday.

A statement from the Miami-based Carnival Cruise Line said the Carnival Freedom and Carnival Valor were at sea and would remain a safe distance from the hurricane.

Petroleum companies evacuated personnel from 86 Gulf of Mexico platforms, according to the Oil & Gas Journal.

By the time Hurricane Harvey was downgraded to a Category 1 storm early Saturday, it had already delivered a 1-2 punch to the Gulf Coast of Texas, making landfall twice, with powerful wind gusts and the threat of catastrophic flooding.

Harvey arrived late Friday south of Corpus Christi as a Category 4 storm, packing 130 mph winds. It made a second landfall about three hours later, according to the National Hurricane Center, and by dawn Saturday the eye of the storm was moving at about 6 mph.

Floodwaters were expected to reach 6 to 12 feet above ground level along the coast, and as much as three feet of rain was expected in hardest-hit areas.

Rockport, a city of about 10,000 people, was especially hard hit. It saw damage to a senior center, high school and other structures.

“Right now we’re still hunkered down and can’t go anywhere,” said Steve Sims, the volunteer fire chief in Rockport. “We’ve heard rumors of 1,000 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.”

On Friday, William McKeon, president and CEO of Houston-based TMC, told Fox News that it was all hands on deck.

“We’re here hunkered down,” McKeon said, added that he’s “never surprised by the weather in Texas.”

But it wasn’t the initial punch of the fierce storm that had McKeon worried.

“The hurricane is elevating in strength over us,” he said. “We’re not so much concerned with the wind as we are with it stalling over us. It’s daunting to think of how much rain we could get.”

Hospitals as far as Austin, Texas, had evacuated patients ahead of Harvey, FOX7 Austin reported. The city also canceled two big concerts – Coldplay and Mary J. Blige, as well as the first day of school on Monday.

McKeon said the hospital had emergency plans in place and had been working with the city on communications and worst-case scenario preps. Some hospitals on the coast, meanwhile, have been evacuating patients, FOX7 Austin reported.

Those problems, and more like them elsewhere in Texas, were anticipated at the White House, where President Trump cleared the way Friday for federal help.

“At the request of the Governor of Texas, I have signed the Disaster Proclamation, which unleashes the full force of government help!” President Donald Trump tweeted late Friday after speaking with Gov. Greg Abbott.

Corpus Christi officials sought to evacuate stranded residents on city buses.

“Anyone who shows up can get a ride,” Lisa Oliver, of Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation Department, told the Caller-Times. “We just need your basic information and bring your personal belongings to stay at the shelter (in San Antonio).”

Olga Mendez, who remembers riding out storms as a young girl, waited to board a bus with her husband and their young daughter.

“My mom never leaves,” Mendez told the paper. “We would just hide in the closet or the tub. But we know it’s important to get out now.”

When Tropical Storm Allison hit Houston in 2001, it was the most expensive storm in the state’s history. Floodwaters destroyed research projects and the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical complex in the world, lost about $2 billion in damage.

Harvey has been fueled by warm Gulf of Mexico waters.

To put the hurricane’s strength in perspective, superstorm Sandy, which wasn’t formally called a major hurricane and still devastated New York and New Jersey in 2012, didn’t have the high winds like Hurricane Harvey and lost tropical status by the time it hit land.

“FEMA stands ready to support state, local and tribal officials as they prepare for Hurricane Harvey,” Brock Long of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.  “I encourage residents who will be affected to follow directions from their local officials. Know your threats, heed the warnings, and if you’re in the path of the storm, ensure your family is prepared for possible prolonged disruptions to normal services.”

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