Texas prepares for 'catastrophic' flooding as Harvey leaves at least one dead and communities shredded

Many communities and towns on the coast have not yet accounted for everyone 

Andrew Buncombe
Rockport, Texas
Sunday 27 August 2017 02:59
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Residents of Rockport, Texas come to terms with Hurricane Harvey damage

An Englishman who claimed he once drummed with Mick Jagger, said that as the most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years shook at his humble motel room, all he could think of were the words to Jumpin’ Jack Flash, a pulsating rock classic about a man “born in a cross-fire hurricane”.

“I kept thinking Jumping Jack Flash, it’s a gas, gas, gas,” said Frank Skipper, who retained a strong London accent despite having lived in the United States for decades.

The 68-year-old Mr Skinner and his partner, Terri Smith, were among scores of people who grabbed hold of whatever they could, when Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane with winds of up to 130mph, roared through this coastal town and tore inland. The storm lasted anywhere up to ten hours, howling and battering.

Frank Skipper said he thought of the Rolling Stones (Andrew Buncombe )

The community of around 10,000, 30 miles north-east of Corpus Christi and made up of homes and trailers barely designed to withstand a stern glare let alone a direct hit from a hurricane, was among those that suffered the very worst of the storm, that has left at least one person dead, injured 14 and triggered fears about massive flooding in one of America's biggest cities.

In a number of communities, officials said they had not been able to account for everyone and had been forced to delay search and rescue operations until the weather relented. The day before the storm struck, the mayor of Rockport, Charles Wax, warned those seeing the storm out to write their names on their arm so they could be identified in case they perished.

On Saturday afternoon Rockport was a tanged mess of downed wires, and flooded fields. House after house looked utterly guttered, while a yacht ramp appeared to have been shredded. It seemed hardly a single home had escaped damage in one way or another. Strangely, the sea appeared utterly calm, seemingly disinterested.

Hurricane Harvey seen approaching Texas from space

Mr Skipper did not think much of the construction of the motel room he was living in. He said he had listened as the shingles on the roof were torn off one by one. “Not a single nail among the lot,” he said, as he pointed out where the ceiling in the room where he and Ms Smith had spent part of the night, had collapsed

“We spent half the night under a mattress, and the other half in the shelter," he said. "We didn’t hear that there was a shelter until 9am.”

Ms Smith, an American who had lived on the Texas coast all her life, said this was her first hurricane. “I’ve never seen anything like this. All these years with nothing, and then this - the worst.”

Many communities have yet to account for everyone

Melanie Tweedy’s family - her daughter, mother, husband and one of her dogs - left Rockport on Friday. They returned to find their home and business - three trailers and three cabins - all but destroyed. Of their chickens and goats, there was no sign.

“We’ve pretty much lost everything - everything we worked for,” said Ms Tweedy, her voice catching. One positive ray was that their second dog, which they had been forced to leave behind, had survived.

Harvey weakened to tropical storm from hurricane strength on Saturday, the US National Hurricane Centre said. The centre of the storm was barely moving and was 140 miles from Houston with sustained winds of 60 mph. Along the coast, anywhere up to 300,000 people have no power, and there are hardly any fuel stations operating.

The next immediate concern is what impact the storm will have as it moves on Houston and prepares to dump anywhere up to 40 inches of water.

The city, the fourth largest in the US, has already recieved 16 inches of rain so far, and will receive 2 to 3 more feet in the coming days, said Mayor Sylvester Turner.

“This is serious,” said Mr Turner, according to the Associated Press. “It is important that people stay off the roads.”

Already on Saturday, the rain was moving towards Houston, flooding fields, rivers and making driving utterly treacherous. A river called the Chocolate Swale had swollen into a small lake the colour of a soft Snickers bar.

After Harvey struck Rockport, the next sizable community to feel its wrath was Refugio, about 30 miles inland. Police had spent the night in their boarded-up office, and once it got light began checking on people. So far, there had been no reports of casualties, said officer Jeff Raymond.

One couple, Sherstin and Casen Kruse, said they had spent the night in a friend’s trailer. The force of the storm ripped off the roof and they clung together under the mattress, they said. Once it became light, they went to the town’s hospital to keep out of the rain. Mr Kruse said: “It felt like it was collapsing on us.”

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