Coastal cities in Texas begin evacuating as Hurricane Harvey approaches

HOUSTON — The National Weather Service has announced that Harvey has officially become a hurricane, with sustained winds reaching 80 mph. Harvey is still forecast to become a major hurricane as it approaches the Middle Texas Coast Friday.

Houston is under Flash Flood Watch from 4 a.m. Friday until 7 a.m. A Tropical Storm Warning and a Storm Surge Watch has also been issued until further notice.

Fort Bend County is now under both a Flash Flood Watch and a Tropical Storm Warning. The Emergency Operations Center will activate Friday at 7 a.m. and begin 24-hour operations .

The Alvin Area is projected to see up to 20 inches of rain over the next three to five days.  Residents are asked to shelter in place.  If an area is prone to flooding, residents are encouraged to seek shelter with friends and family located on higher ground.   The Alvin area is expected to see tropical storm force winds with the potential of significant flooding.  Once conditions begin to deteriorate, officials in Alvin warned that emergency personnel will be limited in their response until the threat passes.  At this time, there are no designated shelters or evacuation centers planned for the Alvin area, nor will transportation be provided.

Friendswood is under a Tropical Storm Warning. Widespread power outages could occur. Friendswood is not expecting hurricane force winds.  Rain is expected to begin Friday afternoon and continue through Tuesday morning, totaling 15 to 25 inches. The risk of flooding is increased by forecasted storm surge of 2 to 4 feet above normal tides. Surge within Galveston Bay limits the ability of Clear Creek to drain.  No evacuation orders have been issued for Friendswood. Residents should limit travel during the weekend. Do not drive through high water: Turn around. Don’t Drown. The City of Friendswood does not provide sand or sandbags. Please check with area stores to obtain those materials.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster on Wednesday for 30 counties in Texas as Harvey makes its landfall. The disaster area includes Harris, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Chambers, Matagorda, Brazoria, Waller, Wharton, Aransas, Austin, Bee, Calhoun, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Goliad, Gonzales, Jackson, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Live Oak,  Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria and Wilson counties.

As Harvey gains strength, residents along the Texas coast aren’t taking any chances; they’re filling sandbags, stocking up on water and boarding up windows.

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Meteorologist expect the storm to intensify in the coming days causing severe flooding, storm surges and damaging winds.

Harvey developed into a Tropical Storm late Wednesday night. A Hurricane Warning has been issued for the Texas coast from Port Mansfield to Matagorda.

NWS has also issued a Tropical Storm Warning from north of Matagorda to High Island Texas.

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for Port Mansfield to San Luis Pass.

Port Aransas on Mustang Island and nearby Portland issued mandatory evacuation orders.

In Corpus Christi, where Harvey could make landfall and Mayor Joe McComb has issued a voluntary evacuation order, Walmart shelves were clearing quickly, as the city canceled Friday’s dockets in city court and provided self-serve sandbags to residents.

Harvey is rapidly strengthening and is forecast to become a Category 3 hurricane with winds of at least 111 mph by the time it hits the middle Texas coast late Friday or early Saturday, the hurricane center said Thursday. After hitting Corpus Christi, the storm is expected to stall over the state, forecasters say.

Hurricane-force winds are a concern as the storm builds strength in the Gulf of Mexico, and a potential deluge and subsequent flooding may be a big danger as well, according to meteorologists.

Track Harvey

“Harvey is likely to bring multiple hazards, including heavy rainfall, storm surge and possible hurricane conditions to portions of the Texas coast beginning Friday,” the National Weather Service said.

“Those conditions can happen far away from the landfall,” hurricane specialist John Cangialosi said Thursday afternoon.

People shouldn’t focus on where the eye will come ashore but should listen to local authorities and be prepared for rain through the weekend and possibly into next week, he added.

Slow storm means more rain

At 2 p.m. ET, Harvey was a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds. It was about 335 miles southeast of Corpus Christi, and was moving north-northwest at 10 mph.

It’s expected to bring 12 to 20 inches of rain to the Texas coast, with isolated instances where rainfall totals could reach 30 inches, Cangialosi said.

Rainfall amounts increase exponentially when a storm moves at a slower speed, as Harvey has been doing. Earlier this week, the National Hurricane Center warned, “The system is likely to slow down once it reaches the coast, increasing the threat of a prolonged period of heavy rain and flooding across portions of Texas, southwest Louisiana, and northeastern Mexico into early next week.”

Compounding potential problems is the tidal cycle. If peak storm surge arrives during high tide, parts of the coast could see 2 to 8 feet of flooding, with the potential of 6 to 12 feet between Padre Island National Seashore and Sargent, Texas.

“Historically, water from tropical cyclones is more deadly” than from damage done by the powerful winds of the storm, Cangialosi said.

While it has been nine years since Texas last saw a hurricane, the state is no stranger to devastating flooding from tropical systems. In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison was a multibillion-dollar disaster for the state, specifically Houston. Allison became nearly stationary for days, dropping more than 30 inches of rain across portions of the city.

Facing pump problems, New Orleans braces for Harvey

A hurricane watch is in effect from north of Port Mansfield to the mouth of the Rio Grande, with a storm surge watch stretching north to High Island, on Galveston Bay.

Harvey could be the first hurricane to hit Texas since 2008 when Hurricane Ike smashed the coast near Galveston. The storm killed 21 people in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, and caused widespread destruction.

‘It scares the hell out of people’

As Harvey churned toward Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster Wednesday in 30 counties along the Gulf of Mexico. The governor’s action allows agencies to “quickly deploy resources for the emergency response.”

“Texans believe in taking action and always being prepared in the event of an emergency,” Abbott said. “That is why I am taking every precaution prior to … Harvey making landfall.”

Energy companies are evacuating personnel from off-shore production platforms, the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced.

In San Antonio, Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued a local disaster declaration warned residents about going out in the rain.

Students and staff at the Texas A&M campus at Corpus Christi are under a mandatory evacuation order. The campus will be closed starting Thursday, according to the university’s website.

People around Corpus Christi started stocking up Wednesday on food, bottled water and other essentials.

“We know that if anything as far as flooding happens, that’s the one thing everyone runs to, we have to have water,” Mariah Barter told CNN affiliate KZTV. “It’s a big deal. It scares the hell out of people. It’s better to be prepared.”

Others in South Texas readied sandbags, fueled up power generators and bought plywood to board up their windows, CNN affiliate KRIS reported.

At a Thursday afternoon White House briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump has been briefed on Harvey. She downplayed concerns about preparedness, given that there is no permanent Homeland Security secretary, and said the White House is in “great shape,” given that chief of staff John Kelly was previously in charge of the office.

The Governor ordered the State Operations Center (SOC) to elevate its readiness level as the storm approaches, and made available any and all state resources to assist in preparation, rescue and recovery efforts.

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