HOUSTON – The remnants of deadly Hurricane Harvey spilled toward Louisiana on Tuesday with more potentially disastrous flooding and emergency evacuations as President Donald Trump planned to survey the ongoing devastation in stricken Texas.
Trump’s expected visit later Tuesday came after he pledged swift action by the federal government to provide relief to states affected by Harvey. It also comes on the 12th anniversary of the last massive storm to pinwheel in from the Gulf with catastrophic damage: Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 29, 2005.
The death toll in Texas had reached nine, officials said, but they said it could rise as authorities pursue reports of people apparently lost in the torrential downpours unleashed by Harvey since Friday. In Montgomery County, north of Houston, police said a man was presumed drowned after attempting to swim across fast-moving flood wash.
Meanwhile, the storm clouds continue to drench the region with an unprecedented deluge – reaching 43 inches since Friday in South Houston and surpassing 40 inches in several other places in around the city, the National Weather Service reported.
For Houston, the rainfall amounts since June 1 reached 50.16 inches – more than the annual average rainfall of 49.77 inches. In Louisiana, rescue teams near Lake Charles near the Texas border evacuated hundreds of people as floodwaters crested river banks and levees. Flash flood warnings and watches were in effect for much of the Lake Charles region as forecasters said up to 10 inches or more rain could fall before the storm is done. New Orleans was under a tornado and flash flood watch until Thursday.
Harvey is moving toward the northeast, with its center expected to be just off the middle and upper Texas coast through Tuesday night, the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday morning. After that, the storm is forecast to move inland on the northwestern Gulf Coast on Wednesday.
Forecasters say more than a foot of rain is still expected to fall through Friday over parts of the Texas coast and Louisiana, and the National Weather Service warned Tuesday of potential flooding in southern Mississippi as well as southeastern Louisiana.
Trump on Monday declared “emergency conditions” in Louisiana. Not long before that, authorities in Texas had warned that more than 30,000 people across the region could be forced from their homes by the time skies are expected to clear later this week. Thousands have piled into shelters in Houston and beyond, seeking safety from the storm without a clear idea of when, or if, they could return home.
“We just can’t take any more,” Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said in western Louisiana, urging residents to leave flood-prone homes Monday. “Anything we get is going to be crucial at this point.”
The immediate focus for many remained on Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city and a sprawling metropolitan area that has seen its share of floods. But the deluge of the past two days is unprecedented.
Every major waterway in the city spilled over its banks. Gullies overflowed. Even neighborhoods far from a creek or bayou flooded. The hardest-hit areas were in the south and southeast, the downstream end of the waterways.
But the southwest may be the next venue for catastrophe. The Brazos River, which runs through Fort Bend County about 20 miles west of downtown Houston, has been swelling as the runoff from the storm collects in its banks. National Weather Service models showed the river rising to 59 feet by Tuesday, topping the previous record of 54.7 feet.
Earlier Tuesday, evacuation orders were given for two prisons with thousands of inmates near the Brazos.
Fort Bend County Judge John Hebert warned Monday night that more than a hundred square miles along the river could flood overnight and into Tuesday as the river swells to unprecedented heights.
“They can guarantee we’ll have a record flood in for Bend County,” he said. “In areas under mandatory evacuation, the danger is very real.”
Authorities issued mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders for parts of that area and warned that anyone who ignores mandatory evacuation orders will not be aided by first responders when the waters rise. But with virtually all the main thoroughfares already closed because of high water, many of the affected residents saw no way out.
Kim Adoubeif, 60, was among about a dozen residents of the Greatwood subdivision who stood in the rain atop a levee on the Brazos River on Monday to gaze at the water and ponder their fate. She said she checked online traffic maps and couldn’t find a route to safety.
“Every way out, there are roads that are flooded,” she said, holding an umbrella against the rain. “So we might not even find a way out.”
In the River Park subdivision, Byron Golden, 60, and his wife planned to stay put in their home. Other neighbors had tried to leave, only to meet flooded roads separating them from Interstate 10, a main artery out of town.
“We did plan an escape route, but at this time it may be too late to leave,” Golden said. He figured it would be better to get caught in a flood in his two-story house than in his car on the road.
Golden and his wife spent the day putting important documents and sentimental possessions into plastic bags and carrying their important things upstairs.
Some who did evacuate ran into difficulties Monday as they tried to reach shelters. In north Houston, for example, rescuers who picked up people forced out of their drenched homes brought them to a fire station to be transported to the M.O. Campbell Center, a school gym and activity center that had been converted to a shelter.
But when the shelter reached capacity, its doors were shut, and at least 300 people were stranded at the fire station.
The horror stories led authorities to urge patience and persistence on the part of residents needing help.
“Please don’t give up on us. None of us are going to give up,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference Monday.
One of the largest shelters, the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown, took in thousands of evacuees Monday. Officials there said that people were lined up to take refuge and that Red Cross officials were prepared to accept 5,000 of them in total.
Among those helping with the rescue efforts alongside first responders were volunteers with boats. On Monday afternoon, dozens from both groups crowded near the Grand Vista subdivision on Harlem Road in the Brazos River area, on the edge of the water that stretched from the road to the rainy horizon.
Boats were unloading evacuees – among them the elderly and children – onto the road, then turning back into the flood.
“It messed me up seeing the kids and babies,” said Jorge Ramirez, 28, who brought over his Alumacraft flat-bottom boat after seeing on Facebook that folks were stuck in this neighborhood. “That’s who we’re trying to get out first.”
He said he’d made about five trips in four hours.
Authorities also faced new questions about whether they should have evacuated Houston. Asked Monday about the decision to recommend that people shelter in place rather than leave the city, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said there was no point in thinking about past decisions.
“We are where we are now,” he said.
Of those confirmed dead late Monday, six were in Harris County, which includes Houston; one was in Rockport, near where Harvey made landfall; and another person was discovered in La Marque, near Galveston. Police said a woman in her 60s died in Porter, a town north of Houston; she was napping in her bedroom when a large oak tree landed on her mobile home.