HOUSTON — Rescuers were answering thousands of calls from people trapped in Houston early Sunday, officials said, as torrential rain from deadly Hurricane Harvey caused “catastrophic flooding” in the city and across southeast Texas.
“This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced,” the National Weather Service (NWS) said Sunday morning.
Heavy rain continued to pour over Houston early Sunday afternoon, with some downtown areas knee-deep in water, and shut down portions of highways flooded with as much as 10 feet of water.
People were still evacuating their homes and the NWS warned that flooding victims should go to their rooftops and not their attics to avoid being trapped by the rushing waters.
- Hurricane Harvey, currently a tropical storm, has caused “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” in southeast Texas, according to the National Weather Service (NWS)
- At least two deaths have been blamed on the storm.
- Houston officials said rescuers have fielded more than 2,000 calls for help
- Harvey is expected to bring 15 to 25 inches of additional rainfall to the middle and upper Texas coast through Friday, according to the NWS.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” said Michael Palmer, lead meteorologist at the Weather Channel.
There was a heavy police presence in the city on Sunday as officials continued to rescue people from the heavy flooding.
As responders rushed to save people from flooded homes and stranded cars, Houston city officials said emergency services were “at capacity” and warned residents to “shelter in place” and not to call 911 unless they were in “imminent danger.”
Houston officials have received more than 2,000 calls for rescue since the storm made landfall, Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Sunday.
“We have had an unprecedented amount of water,” he said.
“I don’t think I need to tell anyone at this point that this is a very, very serious and unprecedented storm,” Turner said.
Turner added that they had received “several hundred” structural flooding reports and that officials “expect that number to rise pretty dramatically.”
Houston had opened up a city convention center as a shelter for people impacted by severe flooding, he added, but encouraged people to stay home if they could.
“The safest place is for you to be in your home,” he said.
The south side of the city was being deluged by up to six inches of rain every hour overnight, the Office of Emergency Management said.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it was conducting urban search and rescue operations in the greater Houston area and that its local command center had received more than 300 requests.
“Currently there are five MH-65 Dolphin Helicopters conducting rescues,” the statement said.
The flooding came as emergency services along the Gulf Coast scrambled to reach those in need of assistance, and many in the path of the storm began to assess the devastation. The full extent of the damage was not yet clear and heavy rain and fierce winds have kept emergency crews from reaching the hardest-hit places.
Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told NBC News’ “Meet The Press” Sunday morning that the recovery effort would take “years.”
Long told host Chuck Todd that President Donald Trump was “extremely concerned” about the situation on the ground.
“He’s given me all the authorities to amass the resources from the federal government down through our state and local partners,” he said adding, “right now we have nearly 5,000 staff that we have coordinated across the federal government within the states of Texas and Louisiana.”
At least two people have died since Harvey made landfall late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane. One was found dead in a vehicle in Houston on Saturday night in a possible drowning amid flooding in the city, a Houston fire department spokesperson said. Another died in a house fire in Aransas County that rescuers could not reach because of flooding.
Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm as of 2 p.m. ET Saturday
The storm was centered around 50 miles east, southeast of San Antonio as of 5 a.m. ET Sunday, with 45 mph winds and “torrential rains” expected to continue, the National Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters warned that a major threat is the sheer volume of water expected to dump over the region over the next several days — including flood-prone Houston.
“When you get rates of over six inches of rainfall an hour it overflows the drainage systems and homes and businesses will be flooded, which is what we’re seeing now in Houston,” Palmer said.
He warned that the storm was likely to stay in the same area for the next few days meaning rainfall would continue to fall over southeast Texas. “The flooding is only going to get worse as we go forward,” he said.
Current forecasts see total rainfall between Sunday and Thursday reaching 40-50 inches, which “would be one of the worst floods in U.S. history,” Palmer said.
More than 45,000 people were without power in Houston early Sunday as city officials warned residents to stay at home as rescue operations were carried out.
Full Coverage: The Latest on Tropical Storm Harvey
A pregnant woman going into labor was among the rescued, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonsalez said early Sunday.
“There are a number of people on our streets calling 911 exhausting needed resources. You can help by staying off the streets,” Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo posted a warning on Twitter, saying: “Cannot emphasize enough how much flooding there is on roadways you are endangering yourself and our first responders by being out stay put … do not think it’s safe to be driving anywhere in the city.”
He added: “Have reports of people getting into attic to escape floodwater do not to do so unless you have an axe or means to break through onto your roof.”
William P. Hobby airport in Houston said all flights were cancelled Sunday, due to standing water on runways. And Houston George Bush Intercontinental airport cancelled more than 1,200 flights scheduled for Sunday and Monday, according to Flight Aware.
Trump signed a disaster declaration late Friday, allowing federal funding to help stricken areas.
On Sunday he tweeted that he would be visiting Texas “as soon as the trip can be made without causing disruption,” adding that, “the focus must be life and safety.”
Wow – Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!