Tropical storm Harvey made landfall again along the Gulf Coast early Wednesday in Louisiana, after setting a new continental U.S. record for rainfall amounts as it stalled over southeast Texas, where thousands of people displaced by floodwaters are living in shelters.
Harvey is targeting an area just west of Cameron, La., where people are bracing for more wind, rain and possible tornadoes. The storm is expected to weaken as it moves to the northeast, dropping substantial amounts of rain on Louisiana before moving Wednesday night into northwestern Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Harvey first made landfall Friday in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane. It then lingered over Texas for days before meandering back into the Gulf of Mexico.
With at least 20 dead and thousands of people rescued in Houston and surrounding cities in southeast Texas, others were still trying to escape from inundated homes. Officials confirmed two more storm-related deaths on Wednesday.
Weakened levee in Houston subdivision
The dangers for those in the flood zones are far from over. Harris County flood control officials are concerned a levee could fail in a suburban Houston subdivision in the north of the county.
Spokesperson Jeff Lindner said if the weakened section of levee along Cypress Creek in Inverness Forest is breached, water could quickly reach the rooftops of homes in the area, which is under a mandatory evacuation order.
He said county authorities are working with several agencies to figure out how to increase pressure on the outside of the levee to compensate for the tremendous pressure inside due to record amounts of water.
“We expect a multi-year recovery,” Elaine Duke, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said Wednesday at a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) briefing.
Flooding to continue in Houston, Beaumont
Major flooding will continue for the next few days in the greater Harris County area, which includes Houston, as well as the Beaumont area to the east, Gov. Greg Abbott said.
He said 14,000 National Guard members have been deployed in these areas and there are plans to increase that number by 10,000.
Abbott said another 14 counties, for a total of 33, are now part of the federal disaster declaration, meaning individuals living there and local governments will be eligible to receive aid from FEMA.
About 195,000 people have registered to receive federal financial assistance, and “that number is expected to climb,” FEMA administrator Brock Long told reporters.
Texas now has 230 shelters housing some 30,000 people, Long said. Gov. Abbott later said there were 32,000 people in shelters and that 210,000 people have registered for FEMA assistance. He said FEMA has approved $37 million in financial assistance for individuals.
The elected official in charge of the county that includes Houston on Wednesday said Harvey could have damaged 30,000 to 40,000 homes. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told TV station KTRK some homes have been damaged irreparably and there will difficult months or even years ahead.
Authorities expect the human toll to continue to mount, both in deaths and in tens of thousands of people made homeless by the catastrophic storm that is now the heaviest tropical downpour in U.S. history.
On Tuesday, Harvey broke the record for the greatest amount of rain ever in any storm, anywhere, in the continental United States, dumping just over 125 centimetres (more than 4 feet).
Texas shelter floods overnight
Floodwaters caused by rain and a nearby overflowing canal entered a shelter early Wednesday near Houston, in Port Arthur. The water rose high enough to force evacuees to retreat to bleacher seats.
The Bowers Civic Center has been sheltering at least 100 people displaced from their homes.
People in Port Arthur are resting in their shelter beds at the Bob Bower Civic Center
Flood Waters nearly reach those sleeping pic.twitter.com/djL3imXoYy
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Marcus McLellan said it’s not clear where the evacuees will go.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued an updated curfew time on Twitter, from midnight until 5.00 a.m., two hours later, to allow volunteers to continue working.
Officials warn some coastal rivers won’t be able to drain effectively because Harvey’s winds are pushing in storm surge, aggravating flooding in areas already drenched by more than 51 centimetres of rain.
Gusts up to 80 km/h are predicted for coastal areas and up to 65 km/h in the Louisiana city of Lake Charles and along the Interstate 10 corridor.
Lake Charles in storm’s path
State offices in 28 parishes and most Baton Rouge area schools won’t open Wednesday in anticipation of possible severe weather.
“You never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at us, but with the people in this room, I’m confident we can handle it,” Gov. John Bel Edwards told local and state officials during a visit Tuesday to Lake Charles, which is near the Texas border.
Edwards said Louisiana also has offered to shelter storm victims from Texas. He said he expects Texas officials to decide within 48 hours whether to accept the offer.
Hurricane Katrina anniversary
Harvey’s devastating flooding brought back tough memories in New Orleans as Tuesday marked the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu opened his Tuesday news conference with a moment of silence for Katrina victims and words of support for Harvey’s victims in Texas and southwest Louisiana.
“We’ve got to save our house,” New Orleans resident Israel Freeman said as he loaded sandbags for his mother’s home into his Cadillac. “She already went through Katrina. She built her house back up. We just had a flood about two, three weeks ago. She just recovered from that.”
Bradley Morris lives in a ground-level house in New Orleans and was “preparing for the worst.”
“There’s plenty of puddling and stuff already,” he said, “so I just assume that we’re probably going to get a taste of what we had a couple weeks ago.”
New Orleans, La., Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged residents to stay home Tuesday because of the threat of potential high water. Some New Orleans neighbourhoods flooded earlier this month during a deluge that exposed problems with the city’s pump and drainage system. On Tuesday, rains flooded a few of the city’s streets, but not to the same extent.
New Orleans officials planned to reopen government buildings and public schools Wednesday, a day after they were shut down amid fears of flooding rain from Harvey.
“The weather outlook got a little bit better for us,” Landrieu said. He cautioned however, that a change in the forecast could mean a change in plans.
About 500 people were evacuated in southwest Louisiana’s most populous parish early Tuesday, as a heavy band of rain pushed waterways out of their banks, Calcasieu Parish spokesman Tom Hoefer said. He said as many as 5,000 parish residents were affected by the flooding, but not all of those people have flooded homes. Some are just cut off by flooded roads.
Evacuations continued Tuesday in some rural areas outside Lake Charles, with authorities working to empty a flood-prone subdivision near the town of Iowa. Officials in Acadia Parish advised residents near the Mermentau River and Bayou Nezpique to leave.