- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2017

The National Weather Service said Sunday that deadly storm Harvey is “unprecedented” and its impacts are “beyond anything experienced,” as Texas officials dealt with stranded residents amid reports of widespread flooding and torrential rain.

“This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced,” the National Weather Service said on Twitter, as some parts of Texas were expected to receive as many as 50 inches of rain.

“We’re in kind of unprecedented territory with this storm,” said NWS meteorologist Patrick Burke.

Tropical Storm Harvey sent devastating floods pouring into the nation’s fourth-largest city Sunday as rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground and overwhelmed rescuers who could not keep up with the constant calls for help.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said residents need to be prepared for more rainfall ahead, including heavy rainfall at times.

“This likely is going to be an historic rainfall, if not an all-time record in the amount of rain that is sustained in certain regions,” Mr. Abbott said at a news conference.

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Karl Schultz said they had been closely engaged on the response efforts and serious issues associated with flooding will be there for days to come.

“This is a very, very dangerous storm” with “catastrophic” consequences, he said. “Folks need to not underestimate that. It is going to be a sustained challenge for the coming days.”

“Many times folks wrongly presume the wind event is going to be the most challenging event,” Adm. Schultz said. “I’ve seen over the course of my career it is actually the water event and we are in for a real significant water event in the coming days.”

Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt said helicopters have rescued more than 100 people in the Houston area. He said people with rising waters in their homes should not go to attics, and said people who head to rooftops should wave sheets or towels to attract the attention of helicopter crews.

Volunteers joined emergency teams to pull people from their homes or from the water, which was high enough in some places to gush into second floors. The flooding was so widespread that authorities had trouble pinpointing the worst areas. They urged people to get on top of their homes to avoid becoming trapped in attics and to wave sheets or towels to draw attention to their location.

Residents living around the Addicks and Barker reservoirs designed to help prevent flooding in downtown Houston, were warned Sunday that a controlled release from both reservoirs would cause additional street flooding and could spill into homes. Rising water levels and continuing rain was putting pressure on the dams that could cause a failure without the release.

Harris and Fort Bend county officials said Sunday that residents around certain areas should be prepared for the influx of water that was scheduled to happen at Addicks around 2 a.m. Monday and a day later at Barker. Officials warned residents they should pack their cars Sunday night and wait for daylight Monday to leave.

Judging from federal disaster declarations, the storm has so far affected about a quarter of the Texas population, or 6.8 million people in 18 counties. It was blamed for at least two deaths.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said authorities had received more than 2,000 calls for help and urged drivers to stay off the roads.

“I don’t need to tell anyone this is a very, very serious and unprecedented storm,” Mr. Turner said at a news conference. “We have several hundred structural flooding reports. We expect that number to rise pretty dramatically.”

The deteriorating situation was bound to provoke questions about the conflicting advice given by the governor and Houston leaders before the hurricane. Gov. Greg Abbott urged people to flee from Harvey’s path, but the Houston mayor issued no evacuation orders and told everyone to stay home.

The governor refused to point fingers on Sunday.

“Now is not the time to second-guess the decisions that were made,” Mr. Abbott, a Republican, said at a news conference in Austin. “What’s important is that everybody work together to ensure that we are going to, first, save lives and, second, help people across the state rebuild.”

The mayor, a Democrat, defended his decision, saying there was no way to know which parts of the city were most vulnerable.

“If you think the situation right now is bad, and you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare,” Mr. Turner said, citing the risks of sending the city’s 2.3 million inhabitants onto the highways at the same time.

President Trump had been monitoring the federal response to the situation and said he plans to visit the area when it was feasible.

Mr. Trump “continued to stress his expectation that all departments and agencies stay fully committed to supporting the governors of Texas and Louisiana and his No. 1 priority of saving lives,” said a readout of a video teleconference Mr. Trump had with Cabinet officials.

“He reminded everyone that search and rescue efforts will transition to mass care, restoring power, providing life-sustaining necessities for the population that sheltered in place, and economic recovery,” the statement said.

“Last, he urged survivors impacted by the storm to continue to heed the instructions of their State and local officials,” it said.

At least two people have died as a result of the storm. It made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane Friday and was downgraded to a tropical storm, though officials caution that the label change doesn’t mean the situation is any less serious.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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