'Life-threatening' 130mph winds batter Texas as Category 4 Hurricane Harvey hits US coast

Governor Greg Abbott warns the monster weather system will trigger "a very major disaster"

Chris Baynes
Saturday 26 August 2017 09:31
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Nasa footage shows ‘life-threatening’ Hurricane Harvey

Winds of up to 130mph have battered the Texas coast as the fiercest storm in over a decade lashes the US mainland, threatening devastating flooding.

Hurricane Harvey reached land north-east of Corpus Christi at around 10pm local time (4am BST) after thousands of people fled their homes on the Gulf Coast to escape the Category 4 storm.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott had warned the monster weather system would trigger "a very major disaster" and drew fearful comparisons to Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest to ever strike the US.

Harvey is expected to move slowly over the Texas and Louisiana coast for days, with forecasters predicting sea level surges of up to 13ft (4m) and more than 3ft (90cm) of rain.

The town of Rockport appeared to be one of the hardest hit, hours after its mayor told anyone who chose not to evacuate to write their names on their arms for identification in case of death or injury.

A high school, a hotel, an elderly housing complex and other buildings suffered structural damage, according to emergency services and local media. Some were being used as shelters.

A power generator tips in the wind in front ofChristusSpohnHospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, as Hurricane Harvey hits (CourtneySacco/Corpus Christi Caller-Times via AP)

"Right now we're still hunkered down and can't go anywhere," said Steve Sims, Rockport's volunteer fire chief.

"We've heard rumours of 1,000 different things. We can't confirm anything because we haven't seen anything. We know we've got a lot of problems, but we don't know what yet."

Mr Sims said power, internet and most mobile phone service was down in the town of 10,000 people, about two thirds of whom fled. Elderly people and nursing home residents were among the first to be evacuated.

As many as six million people are believed to be in Harvey's path, as are oil refineries, chemical plants and the dangerously flood-prone Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city.

The storm's impact on refineries has already pushed up gasoline prices while the US Environmental Protection Agency lifted some rules on gasoline to reduce shortages.

Donald Trump, facing the first large-scale natural disaster of his presidency, said on Twitter he had signed a disaster proclamation which "unleashes the full force of government help" shortly before Harvey made landfall.

A motorist drives through heavy rain before the approaching Hurricane Harvey hits Corpus Christi

Fuelled by the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Harvey became the first Category 4 hurricane to lash the United States since Charley in 2004 and the first to hit Texas since Carla in 1961.

About 30 miles (45 km) from Corpus Christi and moving north-west, Harvey caused scattered power outages both on the coast near Galveston and 100 miles (160 km) inland.

"In the dark, internet out, ham radio not working. Is anybody out there? Alone trying not to be scared," Donna McClure, of Corpus Christi, tweeted as the storm made landfall.

While thousands fled the expected devastating flooding and destruction, many residents stayed put in imperilled towns and stocked up on food, fuel and sandbags, drawing the ire of authorities.

"We're suggesting if people are going to stay here, mark their arm with a Sharpie pen with their name and social security number," interim Rockport mayor Patrick Rios told reporters before it hit.

He added: "We hate to talk about things like that. It's not something we like to do but it's the reality. People don'€™t listen."

A NASA handout shows an image taken from the International Space Station of Hurricane Harvey approaching Texas

As a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, Harvey could uproot trees, destroy homes and disrupt utilities for days. It is the first major hurricane, of Category 3 or more, to hit the mainland US since Wilma struck Florida in 2005.

Harvey's size and strength also dredged up memories of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that made a direct hit on New Orleans as a Category 3 storm, causing levees and flood walls to fail in dozens of places.

About 1,800 died in the disaster made worse by a slow government emergency response.

Corpus Christi, a city of 320,000, was under voluntary evacuation for Harvey. As the storm churned toward land, high winds rocked the few remaining cars circulating, littered streets palm tree debris and rocked sailboats in their docks.

CraigUggen, 57, drives through waters as Hurricane Harvey comes ashore in Corpus Christi

Jose Rengel, a 47-year-old who works in construction, said he was one of the few people in Jamaica Beach in Galveston that did not heed a voluntary evacuation order.

"All the shops are empty," he said as the sky turned black and rain poured. "€œIt'€™s like a tornado went in and swept everything up."

With the hurricane lashing the Texas coast, at least three cruise ships operated by Carnival Corp with thousands of passengers aboard were forced to change their plans to sail for the Port of Galveston.

Two of them headed New Orleans to pick up fresh supplies, while the third delayed its departure from Cozumel, Mexico.

Louisiana and Texas declared states of disaster, authorising the use of state resources to prepare.

The National Hurricane Centre's latest tracking model shows the storm sitting south-west of Houston for more than a day, giving the nation's fourth most populous city a double dose of rain and wind.

The city's authorities warned residents of flooding from close to 20 inches (60 cm) of rain over several days.

Petrol stations on the south Texas coast were running out of fuel as residents fled the region. US gas prices spiked as the storm shut down 22 per cent of Gulf of Mexico oil production, according to the US government.

More than 45 per cent of the country's refining capacity is along the Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation's crude oil is produced offshore.

Ports from Corpus Christi to Texas City were closed to incoming vessels and Shell, Anadarko, Exxon Mobil and others have evacuated staff from offshore oil and gas platforms.

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