AUSTIN: Hurricane Harvey left a trail of devastation on Saturday after the most powerful storm to hit the US mainland in over a decade slammed into Texas, destroying homes, severing power supplies and forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee.
Harvey roared ashore late on Friday, first pummelling the town of Rockport as a category four hurricane, packing sustained winds of 215 kilometres per hour. A few hours later it made a second landfall just north of Rockport as a Category Three hurricane, the National Hurricane Centre said.
Over the next hours Harvey lost strength as it moved inland over south Texas and eventually dropped to a still-dangerous Category One storm, with winds of 75 miles per hour. Although the NHC said Harvey was likely to become a tropical storm later in the day, experts said that a vast area of Texas would face potentially devastating floods over the coming days while some communities were hit by localised tornados.
Emergency services were struggling to make headway as rains continued to lash down while the coast guard was responding to May Day calls from tugboats caught out at sea.
President Donald Trump, aware of the damage done to George W. Bush presidency’s because of his tardy response to Hurricane Katrina, said he was closely monitoring the relief efforts and urged everyone to “be Safe”.
Rockport’s local airport was among the places to suffer major damage, with a light aircraft crushed by a building collapse. Homes were also burnt to the ground as power cables caught fire. Around 190,000 consumers were without power in Rockport and the nearby town of Corpus Christi while another 62,000 were without power in Houston, the state’s largest city.
Brain McNoldy, a hurricane expert at the University of Miami, said a strong ridge of high pressure was preventing the storm from dispersing.
“You would expect the hurricane to just keep going inland over Texas, but that ridge coming into place there is just stopping everything from moving and that’s what’s going to keep Harvey in place for the next days,” he said.
“A tropical cyclone — it could even be a depression it doesn’t matter — makes a lot of rain, so if that sits over you for one day, two or three or four you just keep accumulating rain. It may stay three or four days, and even up to six days. There’s no sign of it really moving in a foreseeable future.”
The NHC warned of likely “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” due to the massive rainfall forecast and the huge storm surge, which could reach nearly four metres in some places.
Trump granted Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s request to declare a “major disaster” zone in the state to speed federal aid to the millions in harm’s way. Abbott in turn activated more than 1,000 National Guardsmen to help with evacuation and recovery.
Coastal Texas is a fast-growing area, with some 1.5 million people moving into the region since 1999. It is also home to a large number of oil refineries.
Harvey is the most powerful hurricane to hit the mainland since Wilma struck Florida 12 years ago.
Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2017