Hurricane Harvey could “almost certainly” lead to loss of life, Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump seeking major disaster relief, as the storm moved closer to the Texas coast, its high winds already beginning to smash through Corpus Christi on Friday night.
“It is not hyperbole to say that if the forecast verifies, Texas is about to experience one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the state,” Abbott wrote to Trump.
The eye of the hurricane made landfall about 10 p.m.
In a statement Friday afternoon, the White House said Trump “continues to closely monitor” Harvey, which was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane Friday evening — a crushing storm with sustained winds of 130 mph that blows off roofs, snaps trees and blocks roads, leaving reconstruction costs in the billions.
Late Friday, FEMA granted Abbott’s request for a federal disaster declaration for the portions of Texas that will be devastated by Harvey.
The last Category 4 hurricane to hit Texas was Carla in 1961, according to the National Weather Service.
“This storm will likely be very destructive for several days,” the White House statement said. “Those who ignore evacuation orders could be putting both themselves and first responders in danger.”
The National Hurricane Center said the eye made landfall about 10 p.m. about 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi between Port Aransas and Port O'Connor, bringing with it 130 mph sustained winds and flooding rains.
Tornado warnings were also issued along the coast, including in Matagorda, north of Corpus Christi, and in Galveston.
A storm surge warning remained in effect for most of the coast — flooding could reach heights of 6-12 feet from Padre Island to Sargent, near Matagorda.
The storm was still expected to bring up to 30 inches of rain along the coast and as much as 40 inches in some spots, the National Hurricane Center reported.
The region could be dealing with flood conditions for up to two weeks, Abbott said in a news conference.
“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.
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 that at this early stage, state spending on storm relief efforts is at $9 million, but he said he expects that number to climb substantially.
Fort Worth area support
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.
“This is the biggest mobilization of volunteers in Texas that I have seen in my nine years with the Red Cross,” spokesman Dan Halyburton said.
In Fort Worth, critically ill infants from Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi were evacuated to Cook Children’s Medical Center on 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.
Corpus Christi officials in a news conference Friday urged residents to stay patient — electricity in some areas could be out three to seven 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,” said Neal, chief executive of the county. “Forty-eight hours is going to seem like an eternity without power. Please be patient. ... Fry those weiners 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.
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 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 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.
Staff writer Matt Martinez contributed to this report