Beleaguered residents of Houston were told to climb onto their rooftops and wait to be rescued, as the city experienced perhaps its most extreme rainfall ever, triggering warnings of catastrophic flooding with worse to come.
At least five people were killed and thousands of residents inundated the emergency services as Tropical Storm Harvey dropped up to 30 inches of rain overnight, leading to widespread flash flooding and a series of dramatic rescues. Some reports said it may be a once-in-five-hundred-years event.
Footage taken by local television networks showed dozens of people wading through waist-high water, pushing children in inflatable boats before them.
While the force of the storm has dropped considerably since it make landfall on the south-east Texas coast, officials said the major danger facing America’s fourth largest city was from water rising ever higher. Most of the city’s drains and bayous were already at record levels. Yet at the same time, the city centre also received several tornado warnings.
“It’s catastrophic, unprecedented, epic – whatever adjective you want to use,” Patrick Blood, a National Weather Service meteorologist told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s pretty horrible right now.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner said emergency services had received 2,000 calls. He urged people to show patience and understand if police prioritised life-threatening incidents.
“If water is in your homes, let me encourage you not to go into the attic, unless you know there is a an exit out of it,” he said. “We will get to you.”
He defended the decision not to order an evacuation of the city. He said there was unprecedented flooding in an area with a population of six million people.
“You can’t just drop six million people on the road,” he said. “If you think this is bad, you imagine an evacuation.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who was among those who had suggested Houston residents be told to evacuate before the storm struck, said the water was still rising in the city.
“Houstonians have dealt with it before. But this is one of the worst, if not the worst [flooding], that Houston has suffered,” he told ABC News.
One Houston resident, Jerry Howeld, an energy industry employee, said powerful rain had started at around 11pm and had continued throughout the night.
“I’m looking at houses that are already flooded. It is still raining but it is lighter now. I just hope that some of it can drain,” he told The Independent by telephone. “There are going to be so many people here who get flooded.”
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo stood in waist-high water during a livestream post on Twitter. “It breaks your heart,” he said. “But it’s Texas. We’ll get through it.”
Elsewhere in the south-east of the state, communities were still trying to check on residents. The Associated Press said that in the island community of Port Aransas, which has a population of 3,800, officials were unable to fully survey the town because of “massive” damage. Police and heavy equipment had only made it into one northerly street.
“I can tell you I have a very bad feeling and that’s about it,” said Mayor Charles Bujan, who had called for a mandatory evacuation but did not know how many heeded the order.
Some of the worst damage appeared to be in Rockport, a coastal city of about 10,000 that was directly in the storm’s path. The mayor said his community took a blow “right on the nose” that left “widespread devastation”.
Newly-weds Jamie and Mike Meyer left the town for their honeymoon only to return to find their home and their mother’s home destroyed. They said everyone they knew had been accounted for except one, but their efforts to make contact had been hampered by the absence of a cell phone signal.
“All the buildings had been wrecked. The only place that is undamaged was the church we got married in,” said Ms Meyer.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies