Hurricane Harvey bombarded a stretch of the Gulf Coast in Texas on Saturday with home-ripping winds and epic rains.
As emergency officials scrambled to assess the extent of the damage, hundreds of thousands of people were without power after utility poles were knocked to the ground as if they were twigs.
The storm made landfall in this coastal city, ripping away roofs, leveling palm trees and road signs, and turning ranch land into lakes. Mayor Charles J. Wax said Saturday that conditions were too dangerous to send out emergency officials but that an initial review, as the storm’s eye passed overnight, had found “widespread damage.”
“We took a Category 4 storm right on the nose,” the mayor said.
Harvey was the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2005, and it was expected to hover over Texas until at least midweek. A fierce Category 4 hurricane when it struck land Friday night, it eased by Saturday into a tropical storm. Still, meteorologists warned that as much as 3 feet of rain could fall across a vast area from Corpus Christi to Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
“Storm surge is the most dangerous element of hurricanes,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN. “It has the highest potential to kill the most amount of people.”
By midnight, the authorities had reported two deaths that appeared to be related to the storm, one in Rockport and the other in Houston. But forecasters warned that Harvey’s onslaught was just beginning. In an advisory Saturday, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was already producing “torrential rains,” and it warned that “catastrophic flooding” was likely in the days ahead.
At a news conference in Austin, Gov. Greg Abbott said Saturday afternoon that officials remained active in search and rescue efforts. “We don’t have any information right now that we can confirm” about deaths, he said.
The storm remained a hurricane well after it made landfall about 10 p.m. Friday, and the deluge of rain made it difficult for authorities to conduct even preliminary damage assessments. More than 250,000 Texans were without electricity Saturday, a figure that was likely to increase.
Authorities ordered evacuations over a wide area of the state.
A few miles outside Rockport, a recreational vehicle lay on its side in the middle of a two-lane highway with its roof ripped off and an orange X spray-painted on its bumper, an apparent signal by emergency workers that the vehicle had been checked for people inside and cleared. A small herd of longhorn cattle waded through a flooded field, searching for dry ground.
“It was very frightening,” said Gene Coxsey, 84, standing in the shadow of a severely damaged hotel. “I’m not sure why it didn’t cross my mind a couple of times that I should have got the hell out of Dodge.”
Concerned about rising floodwaters, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice evacuated about 4,500 inmates Saturday from prisons near the Brazos River to locations in East Texas.
President Donald Trump, facing the first significant natural disaster of his administration, issued a federal disaster declaration Friday. The order, requested by Abbott, covers six Texas counties and opens the spigot for federal aid.
The storm forced hundreds of flight cancellations, partly because Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have major presences in Houston, according to FlightAware, which monitors air traffic.
In years past, major hurricanes caused immediate spikes in oil and gasoline prices, but as hard as Hurricane Harvey has hit the region’s refineries, the impact at the pump has been muted.
However, it may take days before the full impact of the storm is known. Roughly 1 million barrels a day of refining capacity has been shut down on the Gulf Coast, and nearly one-quarter of gulf offshore production has been shut. The Corpus Christi shipping terminals responsible for importing and exporting oil and refined products are also closed. And if the ship channel between Port Aransas and Aransas Pass is badly damaged, it could take weeks for products to leave South Texas refineries, even if the plants are not harmed.
Gasoline shortages are already appearing around Houston, where drivers have been waiting in long lines to fill up. Dozens of gas stations have run out of fuel in the metropolitan area, and prices at the pump have risen about 3 cents a gallon around the city this week.