Har­vey spins deeper in­land; full scope of dam­age un­known

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY FRANK BAJAK

Har­vey spun deeper into Texas and un­loaded ex­tra­or­di­nary amounts of rain Satur­day after the once-fear­some hur­ri­cane crashed into vul­ner­a­ble homes and busi­nesses along the coast­line in a blow that killed at least one per­son and in­jured up to 14.

Through­out the re­gion be­tween Cor­pus Christi and Hous­ton, many peo­ple feared that toll was only the be­gin­ning. Au­thor­i­ties did not know the full scope of dam­age be­cause weather con­di­tions pre­vented emer­gency crews from get­ting into the hard­est-hit places. And they dreaded the de­struc­tion that was yet to come from a storm that could linger for days and un­load more than 40 inches of rain on cities, in­clud­ing dan­ger­ously flood-prone Hous­ton, the na­tion’s fourth-largest.

In the is­land com­mu­nity of Port Aransas, pop­u­la­tion 3,800, of­fi­cials were un­able to fully sur­vey the town be­cause of “mas­sive” dam­age. Po­lice and heavy equip­ment had only made it into the north­ern­most street.

“I can tell you I have a very bad feel­ing and that’s about it,” said Mayor Charles Bu­jan, who had called for a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion but did not know how many heeded the or­der.

Some of the worst dam­age ap­peared to be in Rock­port, a coastal city of about 10,000 that was

di­rectly in the storm’s path. The mayor said his com­mu­nity took a blow “right on the nose” that left “wide­spread dev­as­ta­tion,” in­clud­ing homes, busi­nesses and schools that were heav­ily dam­aged. Some struc­tures were de­stroyed.

Rock­port’s roads were a mess of top­pled power poles. A trailer blocked much of one ma­jor in­ter­sec­tion. Wood fram­ing from ripped-apart houses was strewed along Route 35 on the town’s south­ern end.

Har­vey’s re­lent­less wind tore the me­tal sides off the high school gym and twisted the steel door frame of its au­di­to­rium.

“We’re still in the very in­fancy stage of get­ting this re­cov­ery started,” said Aransas County spokesman Larry Sin­clair.

Rock­port Mayor Charles “C.J.” Wax told The Weather Chan­nel that the city’s emer­gency re­sponse sys­tem had been ham­pered by the loss of cell­phone ser­vice and other forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

A day ear­lier, Rock­port Mayor Pro Tem Pa­trick Rios of­fered omi­nous ad­vice, telling peo­ple who chose not to evac­u­ate to mark their arms with Sharpie pens, im­ply­ing that the marks would make it eas­ier for res­cuers to iden­tify them.

As many as 14 peo­ple suf­fered mi­nor in­juries, in­clud­ing slips and falls, scrapes and a bro­ken leg, Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills Jr. said.

The lone fa­tal­ity con­firmed so far was a per­son caught in a fire at home dur­ing the storm, Mills said. He did not iden­tify the vic­tim.

About 300,000 cus­tomers were without power statewide. Gov. Greg Ab­bott said it would prob­a­bly be sev­eral days be­fore elec­tric­ity is re­stored.

Mean­while, the storm slowed to a crawl of only 2 mph. Rain­fall to­tals var­ied across the re­gion, with Cor­pus Christi and Galve­ston re­ceiv­ing around 3 inches, Hous­ton 7 and Aransas 10. Tiny Aust­well got 15 inches.

Else­where in the storm’s im­me­di­ate aftermath, Coast Guard he­li­copters res­cued 18 peo­ple from boats and barges in dis­tress, said Capt. Tony Hahn, com­man­der of the Cor­pus Christi sec­tor.

The Cor­pus Christi port was closed with ex­ten­sive dam­age. Be­cause the city is the third-largest petro­chem­i­cal port in the na­tion, the agency will be on the look­out for spills, Hahn said.

The fiercest hur­ri­cane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade came ashore late Fri­day about 30 miles north­east of Cor­pus Christi as a mammoth Cat­e­gory 4 storm with 130 mph winds.

Har­vey weak­ened to a trop­i­cal storm by mid­day Satur­day. At 4 p.m., its max­i­mum sus­tained winds had fallen to about 65 mph. The storm was cen­tered about 60 miles south­east of San An­to­nio, the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said.

The hur­ri­cane posed the first ma­jor emer­gency man­age­ment test of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Trump met with his Cabi­net and other se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials to dis­cuss the fed­eral re­sponse to the dam­age and flood­ing, the White House said Satur­day in a state­ment.

The pres­i­dent held a video con­fer­ence from Camp David in which he in­structed de­part­ments and agen­cies to “stay fully engaged and po­si­tioned to sup­port his num­ber one pri­or­ity of sav­ing lives,” the state­ment said.

Trump, who on Fri­day signed a fed­eral disas­ter dec­la­ra­tion for coastal coun­ties, also re­minded de­part­ment heads that the full im­pact of the storm will not be ap­par­ent for days. On Twit­ter, he com­mended the head of the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency for his han­dling of the disas­ter.

In Cor­pus Christi, the ma­jor city clos­est to the storm’s cen­ter, wind whipped palm trees and sting­ing sheets of hor­i­zon­tal rain slapped against ho­tels and of­fice build­ings along the sea wall as the storm made land­fall.

Day­break re­vealed downed lamp posts and tree limbs and roof tiles torn off build­ings. Along In­ter­state 45 leav­ing Galve­ston, the rain was so in­tense that driv­ers stopped un­der bridges be­cause they could not see in front of them.

Rain fell on Hous­ton at nearly 3 inches an hour, leav­ing some streets and un­der­passes un­der­wa­ter. The many drainage chan­nels known as bay­ous that carry ex­cess wa­ter to the Gulf were flow­ing freely and ris­ing.

“Flood­ing is a mi­nor issue so far,” Har­ris County Judge Ed Em­mett, the chief ad­min­is­tra­tor of the county that in­cludes Hous­ton, said. “Most of the wa­ter­sheds are well within banks, but we’re not out of this.”

Fran­cisco Sanchez, with the Har­ris County Emer­gency Man­age­ment Of­fice, said the storm would be around for a while.

“Some­one is go­ing to get those very high rain­fall to­tals,” he said. “Hope­fully it’s not us, but we’re in that pos­si­bil­ity area.”

South of the city, about 4,500 in­mates were evac­u­ated from three state pris­ons in Bra­zo­ria County be­cause the nearby Bra­zos River was ris­ing.

The turbulent weather ex­tended into south­ern Louisiana, where mo­torists were cau­tioned about the potential for high wa­ter, road haz­ards, high winds and tor­na­does.

Har­vey came ashore as the fiercest hur­ri­cane to hit the U.S. in 13 years and the strong­est to strike Texas since 1961’s Hur­ri­cane Carla, the most pow­er­ful Texas hur­ri­cane on record.

[AP PHOTO]

Jen­nifer Bryant looks over the de­bris Satur­day from her fam­ily busi­ness in Katy, Texas, that was de­stroyed by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

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