HOUSTON (REUTERS) - Tropical Storm Harvey slogged across southeastern Texas and into Louisiana on Wednesday (Aug 30), sending more people fleeing for shelter after hitting the US energy hub of Houston with record rains and flooding that drove tens of thousands from their homes.
The slow-moving storm has killed at least 22 people and sent more than 32,000 to shelters since coming ashore on Friday near Corpus Christi, Texas, as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years.
On Wednesday it went on to swamp a stretch of coast from Port Arthur, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Busloads of people fleeing floodwaters around Port Arthur arrived in Lake Charles, joining local residents who had already packed into shelters to escape waterlogged homes.
Harvey was forecast to drop another 7.5-15cm of rain on Wednesday, with a storm surge of up to 1.2m along the western part of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. The floods shut the nation’s largest oil refinery in Port Arthur in the latest hit to US energy infrastructure that has sent gasoline prices climbing and disrupted global fuel supplies.
Moody’s Analytics is estimating the economic cost from Harvey for southeast Texas at US$51 billion to US$75 billion (S$69 billion to S$101 billion), ranking it among the costliest storms in US history.
“The worst is not yet over for southeast Texas as far as the rain is concerned,” Governor Greg Abbott said, referring to the area that includes Beaumont and Port Arthur.
He warned residents of the storm-hit areas to expect floodwaters to linger for up to a week and said that the area affected by the storm was larger than that hit by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people in New Orleans, and 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, which killed 132 around New York and New Jersey.
The population of Houston’s metropolitan area alone is about 6.5 million, far greater than New Orleans’ at the time of Katrina. Abbott asked that the federal government agree to spend more on rebuilding Texas’ Gulf Coast than it did after the earlier storms.
‘WET AND TIRED’
Floodwaters inundated part of Port Arthur’s Bob Bowers Civic Center, forcing the residents who had sought shelter there into the bleachers, according to photos posted to social media.
A shelter in Lake Charles was bracing for about 1,500 people rescued from floods by the US Coast Guard, said Angela Jouett, who is running the shelter. A line of buses arrived in the early afternoon and began to unload people who had fled the storm.
Among them was Jacelyn Alexander, 41, who woke up at 4am when the person who lived in the apartment below hers in Orange, Texas, knocked on her door to warn her the building was flooding. She flagged a rescue boat and escaped.
“I can’t move. I’m wet and tired. I’m trying to find my family,” said Alexander, who said she had last spoken on the phone with her parents early in the morning when her father told her he had declined a rescue.
Harvey made landfall for a third time early on Wednesday, and was about 56km north-northwest of Lake Charles, near the Texas border at 2om EDT (3an on Thursday, Singapore time), the US National Hurricane Centre said. The winds were expected to drop below tropical storm force by Wednesday night, the Miami-based centre added.
Clear skies in Houston on Wednesday brought relief to the fourth-largest US city after five days of catastrophic downpours. Houston airports were to begin limited operations on Wednesday afternoon, said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Disruptions lingered as even some of the people helping evacuees in Houston said they had lost their homes.
Joseph McKenney, 37, a security guard at the downtown Toyota Centre shelter said he had just heard from his wife for the first time in days. She and his children are safe but their rental house is covered in water to the roof, and there is no way to get to it.
“I want to go home, but I ain’t got no home to go to,”McKenney said.
FLOOD DAMAGE IN 49,000 HOMES
Texas officials said close to 49,000 homes had suffered flood damage, with more than 1,000 destroyed. Some 195,000 people have begun the process of seeking federal help, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
The state is investigating hundreds of complaints of price gouging involving loaves of bread offered for US$15, fuel for US$100 a gallon and hotels raising room rates.
US President Donald Trump visited the state Tuesday to survey damage from the first major natural disaster of his term.
Trump opened a speech on tax reform in Springfield, Missouri, on Wednesday with a pledge to stand by the people of Texas and Louisiana.
“Together, we will endure and we will overcome,” he said.“We are here with you today... and we will be with you every single day after to restore, recover and rebuild.”
The storm made it less likely that Trump would act on his threat to shut the federal government over funding for a border wall, Goldman Sachs economists said on Wednesday. They now estimate the probability of a shutdown at 35 per cent, down from 50 per cent previously.
The nation’s largest refinery, Valero Energy Corp’s facility in Port Arthur was shut, said sources familiar with plant operations.
The storm has shut about one-quarter of US fuel production, sending gasoline futures surging to a fresh two-year high on Wednesday.
Royal Dutch Shell has sent staff back to the Perdido oil and gas platform in the US Gulf of Mexico to begin to restart production.