Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast on Friday night, with winds topping 130 mph.
As of Wednesday morning, it was a tropical storm with winds up to 45 mph, and was poised to make a second landfall.
A rain gauge near Highlands, Texas registered 51.88 inches of rainfall, breaking the record for the continental US.
At least 18 deaths have been confirmed, and officials expect the toll to rise. Tens of thousands of people have had to take refuge in shelters as dangerous flooding continues.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced curfew from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. amid reports of looting, armed robberies and people impersonating police officers.
An additional six to 12 inches of rain was expected north and east of Houston and into southwestern Louisiana as of 1 a.m. CDT Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center reported.
A rain gauge southeast of Houston measured 49.32 inches as of 9 am CDT on Tuesday, breaking Texas' tropical cyclone rainfall record. Another near Highlands, Texas (east of Houston) surpassed that record by Tuesday afternoon, registering 51.88 inches of rainfall — breaking the record for the continental US.
At least 18 deaths have been reported. Tens of thousands have sought refuge in shelters, and hundreds of thousands could seek some sort of disaster assistance, officials said.
"This is a landmark event for Texas," Brock Long, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, said. "Texas has never seen an event like this."
But Harvey isn't done yet — Houston is bracing for up to another foot of rain in the coming days, and the storm is turning its destructive eye on Louisiana next, poised to make a second landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border early Wednesday morning. As of 1 a.m. CDT, Harvey was situated about 45 miles south-southwest of Cameron, Louisiana.
— NWSWGRFC (@NWSWGRFC) August 29, 2017
Harvey arrived on the shores of Texas as a hurricane Friday night, packing sustained wind speeds as high as 130 mph. As of Tuesday, it was classified a tropical storm with maximum winds of 50 mph.
The "relentless, torrential" rain hasn't stopped, and forecasters don't expect it to let up in Texas and Louisiana until Friday, by which point total rainfall could reach 50 inches in areas including Houston and Galveston. Louisiana and the upper Texas coast could get another 6 to 12 inches by the end of the week.
Forecasters are predicting that southern Louisiana and even coastal areas of Mississippi and Alabama could also get 5 to 10 inches of rain as well, with Arkansas and the Tennessee Valley getting 4 to 8 inches by Friday.
The storm was moving northeast at 7 mph as of 1 a.m. CDT Wednesday morning, leaving flooding and destruction in its wake. The center of the storm was sitting in the Gulf of Mexico, 45 miles south-southwest of Cameron, Louisiana, and 55 miles south-southeast of Port Arthur, Texas.
"There is an unusual amount of moisture available to this storm, and it is large and powerful, so rainfall records could topple," Jeff Masters, a meteorologist at The Weather Company who cofounded the weather-data website Weather Underground, told Business Insider on Thursday.
The storm surge, the quick rise in water caused by a hurricane's strong winds, crested several feet at the height of the storm on the Texas coast. On Tuesday evening, coastal areas surrounding Galveston were still under a 1- to 3-foot storm-surge warning, and forecasters predicted the Louisiana coast from Holly Beach to Morgan City could see a 2- to 4-foot surge.
Tornadoes are also threatening to strike the Texas Gulf Coast, as well as the southern parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, as the storm churns up strong winds.
Forecasters predict Harvey will pick up more moisture now that it's back in the Gulf, and then make its way back across eastern Texas and up to Louisiana, wreaking havoc for the rest of the week. It should weaken to a tropical depression by Wednesday afternoon.
Harvey's devastating hurricane-force winds, storm surge on the Gulf Coast, and landmark flooding inland combined to make it an unprecedented event for Texas.
Officials expect more deaths to be confirmed in the coming days. Houston police Chief Art Acevedo told the Associated Press on Monday that he was "really worried about how many bodies we're going to find" when the floodwaters recede.
The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that a police officer was the 15th fatality. Steve Perez, a 60-year-old man who had been on the force for 34 years, died in his patrol car after he took a wrong turn and got caught in the high water.
Long said in a press conference on Monday morning that crews were still focusing on rescue and recovery and would have to wait until the storm passed to fully evaluate the damage. Strong winds, flooding, and debris on roadways have also kept emergency crews from immediately reaching many places.
But accounts of destruction in the areas hit hardest by Harvey have been steadily emerging.
— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) August 27, 2017
The Associated Press estimated that the storm knocked out power for about 300,000 residents over the weekend. Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said 911 emergency services in the city had received over 56,000 calls by Monday, and by Tuesday, police officers and firefighters had saved more than 3,500 individuals, according to Acevedo. Emergency crews plucked people from rooftops using aircraft, dump trucks, and boats as the floodwaters rose.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced curfew on Tuesday night, extending from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday amid reports of looting, armed robberies and people impersonating police officers, Reuters reported.
The coastal city of Rockport, Texas, sustained extreme damage, and residents have been told it is not safe to return for the time being (a mandatory evacuation was put in place there). Mayor Charles Wax of Rockport told CNN there had "been widespread devastation."
As the storm approached Friday, Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios of Rockport requested that people who did not evacuate write their names and Social Security numbers on their arms in case rescuers later needed to identify them.
Port Aransas, Texas was also affected heavily — Mayor Charles Bujan told KIII TV that there were likely a few deaths in the city, but that has not been confirmed.
Masters estimated on Thursday that Harvey could cause $10 billion in damage, but more recent estimates are much higher. The Category 4 storm Hurricane Ike, the most recent major hurricane to hit the Texas Gulf Coast, caused $38 billion in damage in 2008.
Why hurricane categories don't tell the full story
Hal Needham, a hurricane scientist at Louisiana State University, wrote in a blog post on the weather site WXshift that a storm's category doesn't fully convey how dangerous rainfall could be and how much damage it could cause.
"Hurricanes and tropical storms throw three hazards at us: wind, rainfall, and storm surge," he wrote. "Think of the impacts separately. Storms with weaker winds are more likely to stall and dump heavier rainfall. This shocks people, as it would seem intuitive that a Category 5 hurricane would tend to dump more rain than a Category 1 hurricane. But the opposite is true."
While strong winds can rip shingles off roofs and tear down power lines, flooding often causes more widespread, costlier damage — and can be more dangerous for humans. The scale used to distinguish a hurricane from a tropical storm is based solely on maximum sustained wind, but Needham explained that "storms are too complex to define by one number."
(Ana Pelisson/Business Insider)
Trump's 'first serious' crisis
Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen. Good news is that we have great talent on the ground.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
Trump and first lady Melania Trump flew to Corpus Christi Tuesday morning, where he told a crowd, "we are here to take care of you," and surveyed the damage and relief efforts. The president is also scheduled to make a stop in Austin to attend a briefing on emergency operations from Texas leadership.
"We want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it," Trump said at a press conference alongside Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. "This was of epic proportion. Nobody's ever seen anything like this."
How Texas prepared
Thousands of residents, many in the towns of Port Aransas, Port O'Connor, and Corpus Christi, where the hurricane first made landfall, evacuated their homes before the storm. The Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority began busing evacuees to San Antonio on Thursday.
Houston didn't order evacuations before the storm hit, and only issued orders in some areas of Harris County on Monday and Tuesday. Masters recommended evacuating only if local emergency experts said to do so, since many of the deaths during Hurricane Rita in 2005 occurred as people tried to evacuate.
Abbott declared a state of disaster Wednesday for 30 Texas counties in Harvey's path, then added 20 counties to that declaration on Saturday and another four on Sunday, freeing up state money and resources to respond to the storm.
He also issued a federal disaster declaration in 19 counties, which Trump approved. Trump has approved emergency disaster declarations in both Texas and Louisiana, directing federal aid toward the affected areas.
On Monday morning, Abbott activated the entire Texas National Guard of 12,000 people.
Before the storm hit, the American Red Cross opened pop-up shelters throughout Houston and San Antonio. Dallas opened shelters as well, and Mayor Mike Rawlings invited those stranded to seek refuge in a press conference Tuesday morning.
Turner, Houston's mayor, said Tuesday that more than 9,000 people are seeking shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the largest shelter that has been opened so far. It has a 5,000-cot capacity.
A Red Cross spokesperson said more than 17,000 people are seeking refuge in shelters total.
The Health and Human Services Department said it was deploying assets to Texas and Louisiana ahead of Harvey's landfall, moving six teams of emergency medical responders to the Dallas area as well as teams to support medical personnel in both states.
FEMA said it deployed over 1 million meals, 1 million liters of water, and 1,800 staff members for the storm response.
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