U.S. emergency management officials said on Monday they were committed to getting federal resources to Texas as quickly as possible to help with the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Harvey, with more than 450,000 people likely to seek assistance.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said more than 30,000 people were expected to be placed temporarily in shelters after the storm made landfall over the weekend.
A disaster declaration request from the Louisiana governor would also likely be expedited, he added.
Tropical Storm Harvey dump more rain on Houston on Monday, worsening flooding that has paralyzed the country’s fourth-largest city, forced thousands to flee surrounding counties and swelled rivers to levels not seen in centuries.
Harvey, the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, first hit land late on Friday and has killed at least two people.
It has since stayed around Texas’ Gulf of Mexico Coast, where it is forecast to remain for several more days, drenching parts of the region with a year’s worth of rain in the span of a week.
Schools, airports and office buildings in Houston were ordered shut on Monday as scores of roads turned into rivers and chest-high water filled neighborhoods in the low-lying city that is home to about 2.3 million people.
Torrential rain also hit areas more than 150 miles (240 km) away, swelling rivers upstream and causing a surge that was heading toward the Houston area, where numerous bayous have already been breached.
More flooding is expected as water levels continue to rise, putting more residents at risk. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Monday that it was releasing water from two nearby reservoirs into Buffalo Bayou, the primary body of water running through Houston.
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“If we don’t begin releasing now, the volume of uncontrolled water around the dams will be higher and have a greater impact on the surrounding communities,” said Colonel Lars Zetterstrom, Galveston district commander of the Corps.
The Harris County Flood Control District said it expected the release to start flooding homes around the Addicks and Barker reservoirs on Monday morning.
Authorities ordered more than 50,000 people to leave parts of Fort Bend County, about 35 miles (55 km) southwest of Houston, as the Brazos River was set to crest at a record high of 59 feet (18 m) this week, 14 feet above its flood stage.
Brazos County Judge Robert Hebert told reporters the forecast crest represented a high not seen in at least 800 years.
“What we’re seeing is the most devastating flood event in Houston’s recorded history,” said Steve Bowen, chief meteorologist at reinsurance company Aon Benfield.
The National Weather Service has issued flood watches and warnings from near San Antonio to New Orleans, an area where more than 13 million people live.
Harvey is expected to produce an additional 15 to 25 inches of rain through Friday in the upper Texas coast and into southwestern Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center said.
Total precipitation could reach 50 inches (127 cm) in some coastal areas of Texas by the end of the week, or the average rainfall for an entire year, forecasters said. Nearly 24 inches fell in 24 hours in Baytown, a city with major refineries about 30 miles east of Houston, the weather service said early on Monday.
Dallas will set up a “mega shelter” it its convention center to house 5,000 evacuees, the city said in a statement.
U.S. President Donald Trump plans to go to Texas on Tuesday to survey damage from the storm, a White House spokeswoman has said.
Trump, facing the first big U.S. natural disaster since he took office in January, signed a disaster proclamation on Friday, triggering federal relief efforts.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Sunday he planned to add 1,000 more National Guard personnel to the flood battle.
The center of Harvey was 98 miles (159 km) southwest of Houston on Monday morning and forecast to arc slowly toward the city through Wednesday.
“The storm isn’t moving much,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Steve Wistar said. “If it doesn’t move much, it keeps throwing rain into the same area.”
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office used motorboats, airboats, humvees and other vehicles to rescue more than 2,000 people in the greater Houston area on Sunday, a spokesman said. (Reuters)