Hurricane Harvey Claims Second Fatality, Deluges Continue Near Houston

ROCKPORT, Texas (Reuters/AP) -
Cars sit abandoned at a flooded gas station after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf coast and brought heavy rain to the region, in Houston, Texas, early Sunday. (Reuters/Nick Oxford)

A second person was killed on Saturday as Harvey, the most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years, roared inland, knocking out power to more than 230,000 people and threatening catastrophic flooding.

The second fatality was identified as a woman who was killed as she drove through flooded streets on Houston’s west side, a Houston police officer said. On Friday night, an unidentified victim died in a house fire in the town of Rockport, 30 miles north of Corpus Christi.

Gary Norman, a spokesman for the Houston emergency operations center, says the woman appeared to have gotten out of her vehicle in high water. She was found by neighbors about 30 yards away from the vehicle. Norman said she was pronounced dead at the scene by a doctor who was in the area.

Another dozen people in the area suffered injuries like broken bones, another official said.

Authorities have urged residents to stay off the streets of Houston and other southeast Texas cities as rain falling at up to 5 inches per hour flooded roads and major intersections.

The National Hurricane Center said that Harvey continues to weaken at a slow pace as it produces torrential rains across parts of Southeast Texas.

In its early Sunday update, the hurricane center said the tropical storm has maximum sustained winds of 45 mph and it is practically stationary about 45 miles northwest of Victoria, Texas.

The airport in Austin, about 165 miles west of Houston, reported sustained winds of 38 mph.

The center said that Harvey is likely to weaken to a tropical depression later Sunday.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service extended a Flash Flood Emergency over west and central Harris County, where Houston is located, as well as for eastern Fort Bend and northern Brazoria counties until 6:15 a.m. Sunday, calling it a “Particularly Dangerous Situation.”

Harvey slammed into Texas late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 miles per hour, making it the strongest storm to hit the state since 1961. It has since lingered over Houston, dumping 2-3 inches of rain an hour onto the city.

The storm ripped off roofs, snapped trees, triggered tornadoes and flash floods and cut off power to some 232,000 people, mostly in the Houston area, on Saturday night. It also largely curtailed oil and gas production in the state, prompting price hikes at the pumps.

Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday but was expected to lash Texas for days as it lumbers inland, bringing as much as 40 inches of rain to some areas, according to the National Hurricane Center, which described the forecast for the state as potentially “catastrophic.”

The Weather Channel reported that rainfall rates in Houston, the fourth most populous city in the United States and home to a third of the 6 million people that could be impacted by Harvey, could reach 5-6 inches per hour, making streets impassable.

Rockport, which took a direct hit from the storm, was left with streets flooded and strewn with power lines and debris on Saturday.

A dozen recreational vehicles were flipped over on a sales lot, one blown into the middle of the street. By Saturday evening, a convoy of military vehicles had arrived in the Rockport area with people and equipment to help in the recovery efforts, and town officials announced an overnight curfew for residents.

Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit the coast, the second-highest category, and the most powerful storm in over a decade to come ashore anywhere in the mainland United States.

Harvey weakened to tropical storm from hurricane strength on Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The center of the storm was barely moving and was less than 150 miles from Houston with sustained winds of 60 mph.

“This is serious,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a media interview on Saturday afternoon. “It is important that people stay off the roads.” Turner said the city, which has faced flooding in recent years during smaller storms, is prepared for what he described as a “major water event.”

Authorities warned of the potentially life-threatening impact of heavy rains between Houston and Corpus Christi over the next several days.

The latest forecast storm track has Harvey looping back toward the Gulf of Mexico coast before turning north again on Tuesday.

“This rain will lead to a prolonged, dangerous, and potentially catastrophic flooding event well into next week,” the National Weather Service said.