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Hurricane Harvey Inundates Houston With Widespread Flooding

27 Aug 2017 1:45 pm
By Bradley Olson and Miguel Bustillo 

HOUSTON -- Tropical storm Harvey flooded the nation's fourth-largest city overnight, turning roads into rivers, inundating homes and forcing authorities to rescue hundreds of stranded people.

At least one person was reported dead in Houston, the second Harvey-related death reported overall, after bands of the storm repeatedly lashed the flood-prone city, spawning numerous tornadoes and pouring as much as 24 inches of rain in 24 hours onto areas that had already been soaked the previous day. Authorities warned that more fatalities were likely.

Police and emergency officials responded to more than 1,000 rescue calls through the night, evacuating an apartment complex and neighborhoods across the city. By Sunday morning, officials warned that 911 services were at capacity and urged people to take whatever steps they could to find safety.

The U.S. Coast Guard said its Houston sector had received more than 300 requests for urban search and rescue and was asking for additional HH-60 Jayhawk Helicopters from New Orleans and Air National Guard support to assist its current five MH-65 Dolphin Helicopters conducting rescues in the area.

"This is historic, devastating rainfall," said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist for the Harris County Flood Control District who is working with emergency personnel. "There is water in homes that have never flooded before, and we've received reports of water going into the second story of homes."

More than 150 roadways are flooded throughout Houston.

William P. Hobby Airport, the city's second largest, said it was canceling all flights due to high standing water on runways.

The mass flooding was reminiscent of tropical storm Allison, a 2001 storm that hung over Houston and dropped as much as 40 inches of rain in areas, killing more than 20 people in the region, destroying over 2,700 homes and causing billions of dollars in damage.

It was the latest blow dealt by Harvey, which hit the Texas coast as a Category 4 hurricane near Corpus Christi on Friday, killing at least one person in the coastal town of Rockport, Texas before losing power and becoming a tropical storm on Saturday.

Authorities warned that the situation could worsen on Sunday as the storm continued to drop large amounts of rain on a soaked Houston. Many of the most flooded areas are near the city's bayous and creeks, which are meant to act as a bulwark against flooding.

Yet as has occurred two other times in recent years, including during the Memorial Day holiday in 2015, they failed to withstand the onslaught from a tremendous downpour.

As flash flooding began to cause street flooding Saturday night, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and other leaders urged calm, advising people to stay indoors and avoid driving through high water. They asked people to remain vigilant, even when it appeared rain had stopped falling in their area.

"Do not be lulled into a false sense of security," said Police Chief Art Acevedo.

The National Weather Service took the extraordinary step of issuing a rare "flash flood emergency for catastrophic life-threatening flooding," warning Houstonians not to leave their homes unless they were at risk of losing their lives due to rising waters.

After receiving reports that residents were fleeing into their attics, Chief Acevedo warned Houstonians not to do so unless they were equipped with axes, because they might otherwise find themselves trapped if waters rise further.

"Unfortunately, we have more days of rain to come," he said in a video posted on Twitter after firefighters and police had rescued people in a flooded apartment complex North of the city. "It's sad. It breaks your heart for our city."

The National Hurricane Center said the storm could linger around the city through as late as Thursday, suggesting that danger from flooding in Houston and in many areas of Texas could intensify.

The catastrophic rainfall came only a day after Harvey battered Texas' southern coastline, after making landfall with wind speeds exceeding 100 miles an hour. It was the most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years.

Harvey has led to the shutdown of nearly 5% of the nation's refining capacity, about 500,000 barrels a day in crude production and a vast apparatus of infrastructure built out in recent years from the U.S. energy boom.

Local officials in Rockport, the small coastal city near where Harvey made landfall Friday night, said they knew of at least one death from the storm.

Forecasters believe Harvey is on a pace to exceed even tropical storm Allison's rainfall totals before it moves away from Houston and dissipates. They had projected that a large central swath of the state would receive 25 inches of rain, with some spots receiving up to 40.

Even as the storm is expected to continue weakening, meteorologists warned that the rainfall will continue for many days.

Dan Frosch, Erin Ailworth and Russell Gold contributed to this article

Write to Miguel Bustillo at miguel.bustillo@wsj.com and Bradley Olson at bradley.olson@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 27, 2017 09:45 ET (13:45 GMT)

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