By Mica Rosenberg and Ruthy Munoz, Reuters
HOUSTON – Tropical Storm Harvey bore down on Louisiana on Wednesday, bringing yet more water after setting rainfall records in Texas that caused catastrophic flooding and paralyzed the U.S. energy hub of Houston.
The storm that first came ashore on Friday near Corpus Christi, Texas, as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years has killed at least 17 people and forced tens of thousands to leave their deluged homes.
Damage has been estimated at tens of billions of dollars, making it one of the costliest U.S. natural disasters.
While the storm pushed into Louisiana, there was some relief in sight for Houston after four days of torrential rain in the nation’s fourth most populous city. Clear skies were seen for the first time since Saturday.
Mike Dickerson, 52, a handyman, walked through Houston’s quiet streets, carrying a bag of his possessions. He had taken refugee in the city’s convention center and was trying to figure out how to get back to his home, which was waist-deep in water the late time he saw it.
“A lot of people are going back now because everything looks dry around here. But people who lost everything have nowhere to go and are still at the convention center,” Dickerson said. “They are just telling everyone to call FEMA, tell them about the damage. They put a number up.”
As Harvey churned out of the Houston area, it made landfall for a third time early on Wednesday, and was about 25 miles west of Lake Charles, Louisiana, at 8 a.m. EDT with winds up to 45 miles per hour. It was expected to bring an additional 3 to 6 inches of rain to an area about 80 miles east of Houston as well as southwestern Louisiana, where some areas have already seen more than 18 inches of rain.
The Beaumont-Port Arthur area east of Houston received “an incredible amount of rain overnight,” said David Roth, meteorologist at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.
He said the observation point at the regional airport showed the rain total over the past 24 hours that “appears to exceed anything reported around Houston within 24 hours during Harvey‘s passage.”
Several hundred people already had been rescued from their homes in Lake Charles, where flood waters were knee-deep in places, Mayor Nic Hunter told CNN.
“We are a very resilient people down here. We will survive,” Hunter said. “We will take care of each other down here in Texas and Louisiana. But we do need some help from the federal government, these homeowners and these people who have been displaced. That’s going to be our biggest need.”
Harvey is projected to weaken as it moves inland to the northeast, the National Hurricane Center said.
It may take days for Houston’s flood waters, which have spilled over dams and pushed levees to their limits, to recede, local officials said.
City officials were preparing to temporarily house some 19,000 people, with thousands more expected to flee. As of Wednesday morning, state officials said close to 49,000 homes had suffered flood damage, with more than 1,000 destroyed.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner imposed a curfew from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. amid reports of looting, armed robberies and people impersonating police officers.
U.S. President Donald Trump visited Texas on Tuesday to survey damage from the first major natural disaster to test his crisis leadership. The president said he was pleased with the response but too soon for a victory lap.
“We won’t say congratulations,” he said. “We don’t want to do that … We’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished.”
ECONOMIC COST UP TO $75 BILLION
Moody’s Analytics is estimating the economic cost from Harvey for southeast Texas at $51 billion to $75 billion.
The nation’s largest refinery, Valero Energy Corp’s 335,000 barrel-per-day facility in Port Arthur, Texas, was shut on Wednesday morning as Harvey lashed southeast Texas, said sources familiar with plant operations.
The storm has affected nearly one-fifth of U.S. refining capacity, sparking concerns about gasoline supply. The national average gasoline price rose to $2.404 a gallon, up six cents from a week ago, with higher spikes in Texas.
The unprecedented flooding has left scores of neighborhoods in chest-deep water and badly strained the dams and drainage systems that protect the low-lying Houston metropolitan area, which is home to more than 6 million people and has an economy about as large as Argentina’s.
Harvey has drawn comparisons with Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans 12 years ago, killing more than 1,800 people and causing an estimated $108 billion in damage.
Among the confirmed fatalities in Houston was Police Sergeant Steve Perez, a 34-year veteran of the force who drowned while attempting to drive to work on Sunday.
In Beaumont, northeast of Houston, a woman clutching her baby daughter was swept away in raging flooding. The baby was saved but the mother died, Beaumont police said.
In all, 17 people have died, according to government officials and the Houston Chronicle. Four volunteer rescuers also went missing after their boat was swept in a fast-moving current, local media reported.
U.S. Coast Guard helicopters and boats have rescued more than 4,000 people. Thousands of others have been taken to safety by police, rescue workers and citizen volunteers who brought their boats to help.
The National Hurricane Center on Tuesday afternoon said a record 51.88 inches of rain had fallen in Texas due to Harvey, a record for the continental United States.
This breaks the previous record of 48 inches set during tropical storm Amelia in 1978 in Medina, Texas.