This story will be updated as major developments unfold.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asked President Trump to issue a major disaster declaration Friday for areas of the state in the path of Hurricane Harvey.
“This is going to be a very major disaster,” Abbott said in a news conference broadcast by multiple outlets. “If you are in the areas between the Corpus Christi area and the Houston area, especially in low-lying areas, you need to strongly consider evacuating.”
Harvey is headed like a battering ram toward the Texas coast and was upgraded Friday afternoon to a Category 4 hurricane — a crushing storm that blows off roofs, snaps trees and blocks roads, leaving reconstruction costs in the billions — as of Friday morning.
The region could be dealing with flood conditions for up to two weeks, Abbott said. The hope in strongly urging people to evacuate, even from areas that are not subject to mandatory evacuation, is to avoid a scenario like Houston saw in 1989 the week after Tropical Storm Allison hit the Texas and Louisiana coastline.
“We are using terms like ‘devastating’ and ‘catastrophic’ in association with this storm,” said Greg Waller, a service coordination hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.
Tornado warnings were issued Friday afternoon in several cities along the coast, including Matagorda and Galveston.
The storm had been upgraded to Category 2 just after midnight. Winds had increased to 110 mph by early Friday and by Friday afternoon had reached Category 3 strength. Category 3 comes with winds of 111-129 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Reconstruction costs could reach $39.6 billion, according to CoreLogic, a global property information, analytics and data solutions provider, which released data showing that 232,721 homes along the Texas coast are at potential risk of storm surge damage at Category 3. Corpus Christi has 34,802 homes potentially at risk, with a reconstruction cost of nearly $6.2 billion, while Beaumont-Port Arthur has 75,567 homes, with a reconstruction cost of nearly $12.1 billion.
Abbott said at this early stage, state spending on storm relief efforts is at $9 million, but he said he expects that number to climb substantially.
Before 8 a.m., Harvey was still 140 miles southeast of Corpus Christi and 145 southeast of Port O’Connor, with the outer bands making first landfall. Harvey is moving toward the mid-Gulf Coast at 10 mph, but Waller said it should slow and stall as the eye gets closer to landfall, sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning.
Landfall was predicted along the central Texas coast, between Port O’Connor and Matagorda Bay, according to The Associated Press. That stretch of coastline spans about 30 miles, roughly 70 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.
Areas along the coast could receive more than 30 inches of rain over the next week, which would lead to widespread flooding and power outages, according to National Weather Service estimates.
Corpus Christi officials in a news conference Friday urged residents to stay patient — electricity in some areas could be out 3-7 days, Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal said.
“The greatest asset that [residents] can have is patience, because this storm is not going to play out overnight,” Neal said. “Forty-eight hours is going to seem like an eternity without power. Please be patient. ... Fry those wieners today and eat them for the next three days.”
People throughout the region posted on social media Thursday and Friday about empty shelves at area grocery stores. Many gas stations ran out of gas or were shuttered in preparation for the storm. As far north as Lufkin, residents had already bought out all the bread and water.
Residents left notes for Harvey on the wood or cardboard they used to cover windows before they left town.
“Go home, Harvey, you’re drunk,” read Corpus Christi resident Brittany Fowler’s sign on her home’s front door.
President Trump said on Twitter that he had been in contact with Abbott about the storm and that the federal government was monitoring the situation.
Predicting the worst
Weather forecasters are predicting the worst.
“You will remember this storm for the rest of your life,” Waller said.
Southwest Airlines, which flies in and out of Dallas Love Field, issued a travel advisory for the weekend. A flight from Corpus Christi set to arrive at Love Field at 9 a.m. Friday was the last Southwest flight out of the city sitting in the direct path of the storm.
Southwest had canceled about 120 flights systemwide as of Friday morning, but more are expected as Harvey gets closer to the coast. Southwest customers flying to, through or from Austin, Corpus Christi, Houston, Harlingen or San Antonio can rebook or fly standby for no added charges on flights originally scheduled for Thursday through Sunday, if rebooked within 14 days from their original date.
American Airlines officials are also monitoring the storm, but because they do not offer many flights to Houston, they are not anticipating much impact to their weekend flight schedule. The airline is offering passengers the chance to rebook flights today through Sunday, online for no change fee, for tickets purchased before Thursday and for flights scheduled to, through or from airports in Austin, Beaumont, Brownsville, College Station, Corpus Christi, Houston, Lake Charles, McAllen or San Antonio.
That wide radius of airports underscores the massive threat of flooding to nearly the entire swath of the state of Texas east of Interstate 35. Waller said widespread areas of the state could see 15-25 inches of rain through Tuesday or Wednesday, while isolated areas, including parts of the Houston area, could see 35 inches or more.
“After this storm moves inland 30-60 miles, it appears it’s just going to sit down for a while,” Waller said. “And even cut off from its moisture source, flash flooding and river flooding is a massive threat here. Monday morning the storm will be roughly in the same spot it was in Saturday morning. It appears it will move off the coast Monday night or Tuesday morning and be above the Houston area Tuesday night, Wednesday morning.”
Mandatory evacuation of counties expected to be severely impacted by the storm began Thursday and the list continued to expand Friday. The City of Port Aransas was the first to issue a mandatory evacuation and was followed by Calhoun and San Patricio Counties early Thursday afternoon.
The Red Cross of North Texas has sent six 18-wheelers full of “shelter kits” and “feeding kits” to staging areas outside the anticipated impact area, where they will wait until first responders have declared those areas safe for recovery efforts to begin.
Six more trucks will leave the warehouses off Interstate 20 and New York Avenue in Arlington today. Two will head to San Antonio, two are bound to Victoria, and two more were still being loaded at 11 a.m. Friday. Each shelter kit has “all the supplies needed to shelter 816 people per kit,” while the feeding kits have “all the peripheral supplies to go along with mobile kitchens, once those are set up,” said Dan Halyburton, a Red Cross spokesman.
“This is the biggest mobilization of volunteers in Texas that I have seen in my nine years with the Red Cross,” Halyburton said.
In Fort Worth, critically ill infants from Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi were evacuated to Cook Children’s Medical Center Thursday evening, Cook spokeswoman Kim Brown said. The babies require ventilators, which means any power outage could put them at risk.
Area animal shelters had already taken in 30-50 animals from the coast and were ready to accept more if necessary, said Diane Covey, Fort Worth city animal shelter spokeswoman.
Two to three local game wardens will be on their way south, as will seven local MedStar personnel, who will be bringing an AMBUS mobile hospital unit with them.
The following evacuations were ordered as of Friday morning, according to Star-Telegram partner WFAA-TV:
Mandatory evacuation: Cities of Aransas Pass, Rockport
Mandatory evacuation for coastal communities along the Gulf side of the Intracoastal Waterway, including Surfside, Sargent and Palacios beginning at 8 a.m. Friday. The evacuation is due to a 6-10 foot storm surge. Voluntary evacuation for low-lying coastal areas inland of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Voluntary evacuation of RV’s in County Parks
Voluntary evacuation of City of South Padre Island
Voluntary evacuation of: Smith Point, Cedar Point
Voluntary evacuation for residents of Bolivar peninsula, effective Friday 8 a.m.
Voluntary evacuation: City of Seabrook by noon Friday
Mandatory evacuation for parts of the county
City of Corpus Christi: evacuation encouraged but not mandatory. Mandatory evacuation for Port Aransas and Ingleside. Assisted evacuations take place between 8 a.m. and noon Friday.
San Patricio County