With time run­ning out, thou­sands flee Har­vey

Fore­cast­ers com­pare storm to de­struc­tive Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Graczyk The As­so­ci­ated Press

HOUS­TON — With time run­ning out, tens of thou­sands of peo­ple fled Fri­day from the path of an in­creas­ingly men­ac­ing-look­ing Hur­ri­cane Har­vey as it took aim at a wide swath of the Texas Gulf Coast that in­cludes oil re­finer­ies, chem­i­cal plants and dan­ger­ously flood­prone Hous­ton, the na­tion’s fourth-largest city.

Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott warned that the mon­ster sys­tem would be “a very ma­jor disas­ter,” and the fore­casts drew fear­ful com­par­isons to Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, one of the dead­li­est ever to strike the U.S.

“We know that we’ve got mil­lions of peo­ple who are go­ing to feel the im­pact of this storm,” said Den­nis Felt­gen, a spokesman and me­te­o­rol­o­gist for the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter. “We re­ally pray that peo­ple are lis­ten­ing to their emer­gency man­agers and get out of harm’s way.”

The outer bands of the Cat­e­gory 3 storm ar­rived Fri­day, with rain pelt­ing the coast, wa­ter lev­els ris­ing and winds ac­cel­er­at­ing. Land­fall was pre­dicted for late Fri­day or early Satur­day near Rock­port, a fish­ing-and-tourist town about 30 miles north­east of Cor­pus Christi.

If it does not lose strength, the sys­tem will come ashore as the fiercest hur­ri­cane to hit the U.S. in nearly a dozen years.

Aside from the wind and storm surges up to 12 feet (4 me­ters), Har­vey was ex­pected

to drop prodi­gious amounts of rain — up to 3 feet. The re­sult­ing flood­ing, one ex­pert said, could be “the depths of which we’ve never seen.”

Galve­ston-based storm surge ex­pert Hal Need­ham of the pri­vate firm Marine Weather and Cli­mate said fore­casts in­di­cated that it was “be­com­ing more and more likely that some­thing re­ally bad is go­ing to hap­pen.”

At least one re­searcher pre­dicted heavy dam­age that would linger for months or longer.

“In terms of eco­nomic im­pact, Har­vey will prob­a­bly be on par with Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina,” said Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami se­nior hur­ri­cane re­searcher Brian McNoldy. “The Hous­ton area and Cor­pus Christi are go­ing to be a mess for a long time.”

Be­fore the storm ar­rived, home and busi­ness own­ers nailed ply­wood over win­dows and filled sand­bags. Steady traf­fic filled the high­ways leav­ing Cor­pus Christi, but there were no ap­par­ent jams. In Hous­ton, where mass evac­u­a­tions can in­clude chang­ing ma­jor high­ways to a one-way ve­hi­cle flow, author­i­ties left traf­fic pat­terns un­changed.

Just hours be­fore the pro­jected land­fall, the gover­nor and Hous­ton lead­ers is­sued con­flict­ing state­ments on evac­u­a­tion.

Af­ter Ab­bott urged more peo­ple to flee, Hous­ton author­i­ties urged peo­ple to re­main in their homes and rec­om­mended no wide­spread evac­u­a­tions. Mayor Sylvester Turner on Fri­day tweeted “please think twice be­fore try­ing to leave Hous­ton en masse.” The spokesman of emer­gency oper­a­tions in Har­ris County was even more di­rect, tweet­ing: “LO­CAL LEAD­ERS KNOW BEST.”

At a con­ve­nience store in Hous­ton’s Mey­er­land neigh­bor­hood, at least 12 cars lined up for fuel. Brent Borg­st­edte said this was the fourth gas sta­tion he had vis­ited to try to fill up his son’s car. The 55-year-old in­sur­ance agent shrugged off Har­vey’s risks.

“I don’t think any­body is re­ally that wor­ried about it. I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said. “I’ve been through sev­eral hur­ri­canes.”

Sci­en­tists warned that Har­vey could be­come pow­er­ful enough to swamp coun­ties more than 100 miles (161 kilo­me­ters) in­land and stir up danger­ous surf as far away as Alabama and the Florida Pan­han­dle, 700 miles (1,126 kilo­me­ters) from the pro­jected land­fall.

It may also spawn tor­na­does. Even af­ter weak­en­ing, the sys­tem might spin out into the Gulf and re­gain strength be­fore hit­ting Hous­ton a sec­ond time Wed­nes­day as a trop­i­cal storm, fore­cast­ers said.

By mid-af­ter­noon, the storm was cen­tered about 60 miles (96 kilo­me­ters) south­east of Cor­pus Christi, mov­ing 10 mph (17 kph) to the north­west. It had max­i­mum winds of 125 mph (201 kph).

All seven Texas coun­ties on the coast from Cor­pus Christi to the western end of Galve­ston Is­land or­dered manda­tory evac­u­a­tions from low­ly­ing ar­eas. Four coun­ties or­dered full evac­u­a­tions and warned there was no guar­an­tee of res­cue for peo­ple stay­ing be­hind.

Vol­un­tary evac­u­a­tions have been urged for Cor­pus Christi and for the Bo­li­var Penin­sula, a sand spit near Galve­ston where many homes were washed away by the storm surge of Hur­ri­cane Ike in 2008.

State of­fi­cials said they had no count on how many peo­ple have ac­tu­ally left their homes.

Peo­ple in the town of Port Lavaca, pop­u­la­tion 12,200, ap­peared to heed the dan­ger. It was a ghost town Fri­day, with ev­ery busi­ness boarded up. But at a bay­side RV park that looked vul­ner­a­ble, John Bel­lah drove up in his pickup to have a look at an RV he had been told was for sale. He and his wife planned to ride out Har­vey.

“This is just go­ing to blow through,” said Bel­lah, 72, who said he had been through Hur­ri­cane Rita in 2005 and Carla in 1961. He de­scribed those storms as “much worse.”

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

The White House said Trump was closely mon­i­tor­ing the hur­ri­cane and planned to travel to Texas early next week to view re­cov­ery ef­forts. The pres­i­dent was ex­pected to re­ceive brief­ings dur­ing the weekend at Camp David.

Tom Bossert, Trump’s home­land se­cu­rity and coun­tert­er­ror­ism ad­viser, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion was “bring­ing to­gether the fire­power of the fed­eral govern­ment to as­sist the state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, but the state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments are in the lead here.”

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