Governor

Some Texans Flee From Hurricane Harvey to Chicago

"Texas is about to have a very significant disaster," FEMA director Brock Long said

What to Know

  • NWS upgraded Harvey to a major Cat. 4 hurricane Friday evening
  • Extreme winds expected; main threat will be flooding and storm surge
  • State of disaster declared for 30 counties on or near the coast

Mike Evans decided hours ago it was time to Leave Houston.

Hurricane Harvey began moving into Texas late Friday, bringing the fierce winds and torrential rain whose forecast earlier sent tens of thousands of residents fleeing a wide swath of the state's Gulf Coast in hopes of escaping its wrath.

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Evans said he would go "anywhere" from New York to Los Angeles. But he ended up in Chicago.

"This was the only flight I could get," he told NBC 5 at Midway Airport.

The National Hurricane Center said the eye of the dangerous Category 4 storm was "almost onshore" as of 9 p.m. CT.

With time running out, residents fled Friday from the path of the increasingly menacing-looking hurricane as it took aim at an area of Texas that includes oil refineries, chemical plants and dangerously flood-prone Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city.

Houston native Bridget Thomas was visitng family in Chicago. She said if she needs to stay a little longer due to Harvey, it's not a problem. She says she has her passport, Social Security card and birth certificate.

"I brought all my important documents," she said. "Just in case I go back to a home that's flooded.

Fueled by warm Gulf of Mexico waters, Harvey grew rapidly, accelerating from a Category 1 early in the morning to a Category 4 by evening. Its transformation from an unnamed storm to a life-threatening behemoth took only 56 hours, an incredibly fast intensification.

[NATL] Dramatic Images: Floods Hit as Harvey Drenches Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned that the monster system would be "a very major disaster," and the forecasts drew fearful comparisons to Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest ever to strike the U.S.

In a tweet Friday evening, President Donald Trump said: "At the request of the Governor of Texas, I have signed the Disaster Proclamation, which unleashes the full force of government help!"

Millions of people were bracing for a prolonged battering from the hurricane, which will likely be the strongest hurricane to hit the US in about 13 years. Forecasters labeled Harvey a "life-threatening storm" that posed a "grave risk," saying it could swamp several counties more than 100 miles inland.

Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said on MSNBC earlier Friday that Harvey was a "very serious" threat and that the window for evacuating was quickly closing.

"Texas is about to have a very significant disaster," Long warned.

At least one researcher predicted heavy damage that would linger for months or longer.

"In terms of economic impact, Harvey will probably be on par with Hurricane Katrina," said University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. "The Houston area and Corpus Christi are going to be a mess for a long time."

Aside from savage winds and 12-foot storm surges, the system was expected to drop over 3 feet of rain.

Rain bands from the storm began pelting the coast early Friday. As of 1 p.m. Friday, Harvey was centered about 85 miles southeast of Corpus Christi and was moving northwest at 10 mph.

All seven Texas counties on the coast from Corpus Christi to the western end of Galveston Island have ordered mandatory evacuations of tens of thousands of residents from all low-lying areas. Officials in four counties ordered full evacuations and warned there was no guarantee of rescue for people staying behind. Voluntary evacuations have been urged for Corpus Christi itself and for the Bolivar Peninsula, a sand spit near Galveston where many homes were washed away by the storm surge of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Texas officials expressed concern Thursday that not as many people are evacuating compared with previous storms.

"A lot of people are taking this storm for granted thinking it may not pose much of a danger to them," Gov. Greg Abbott told Houston television station KPRC. "Please heed warnings and evacuate as soon as possible."

The U.S. Navy has closed Naval Air Station Corpus Christi and ordered the evacuation of all non-essential active-duty military. Oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico also began evacuating employees Thursday.

Abbott has activated about 700 members of the state National Guard ahead of Hurricane Harvey making landfall.

Harvey's effect would be broad. The hurricane center said storm surges as much as 3 feet could be expected as far north as Morgan City, Louisiana, some 400 miles away from the anticipated landfall.

And once it comes ashore, the storm is expected to stall, dumping copious amounts of rain for days in areas like flood-prone Houston, the nation's fourth most-populous city, and San Antonio.

State transportation officials were considering when to turn all evacuation routes from coastal areas into one-way traffic arteries headed inland. John Barton, a former deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, predicted state officials will do this before the storm hits, but said timing and determining where to use it are the key factors. Storms change paths and if contraflow starts too early, supplies such as extra gasoline needed to support impacted areas can't get in, he noted.

Meanwhile, residents along the Texas coast flocked to grocery and hardware stores, and gas stations to stock up on last-minute supplies, NBC affiliate KRIS reported. 

Harvey would be the first significant hurricane to hit Texas since Ike in September 2008 brought winds of 110 mph to the Galveston and Houston areas and inflicted $22 billion in damage. It would be the first big storm along the middle Texas coast since Hurricane Claudette in 2003 caused $180 million in damage.

An Illinois elementary school district closed Wednesday after a student mysteriously died at a hospital this week.

It's taking aim at the same vicinity as Hurricane Carla, the largest Texas hurricane on record. Carla came ashore in 1961 with wind gusts estimated at 175 mph and inflicted more than $300 million in damage. The storm killed 34 people and forced about 250,000 people to evacuate.

First lady Melania Trump tweeted "thoughts and prayers" to those leaving near the hurricane's path, adding the "entire country [is] with you."

The White House said the president was closely monitoring the hurricane and planned to travel to Texas early next week to view recovery efforts. The president was expected to receive briefings during the weekend at Camp David.

Trump's homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser, Tom Bossert, said the administration was "bringing together the firepower of the federal government to assist the state and local governments, but the state and local governments are in the lead here."

At least one researcher predicted heavy damage that would linger for months or longer.

"In terms of economic impact, Harvey will probably be on par with Hurricane Katrina," said University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. "The Houston area and Corpus Christi are going to be a mess for a long time."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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