Flash floods send Texans into 'survival mode' as Harvey hits Port Arthur with 26 inches of rain in one day

Over 26 inches of rain was recorded at the airport near Port Arthur, Texas, on Tuesday alone, and residents in the area were desperate to escape. The catastrophic flooding moved east of Houston as Harvey continued through southeastern Texas into Louisiana.

The Bowers Civic Center, where at least 100 people were seeking shelter after their homes flooded, was inundated with water early Wednesday morning. Evacuees were forced to abandon floating cots and retreat to the bleachers lining the building.

Mayor Derrick Freeman of Port Arthur, a city located about 90 miles east of Houston in Jefferson County, told CBS News that 20,000 homes had as much as 6 feet of water in them. Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff Marcus McLellan said 911 operators were overwhelmed with requests and residents were in "survival mode."

"Our whole city is underwater right now but we are coming! If you called, we are coming," Freeman posted on Facebook early Wednesday morning. "Please get to higher ground if you can, but please try stay out of attics."

The Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management said on Facebook early Wednesday that first responders would resume rescue operations after sunrise.

The Port Arthur city Twitter account encouraged residents to "display a white towel, sheet, shirt or anything" so rescuers could find them in the torrential rain that was still pouring down Wednesday morning.

Hal Needham, a hurricane scientist at Louisiana State University, estimated in a blog post that the triangle of Port Arthur and Beaumont in Jefferson County and Orange in the neighboring Orange County was getting as much as 6 inches of rain an hour. The Weather Channel reported that Port Arthur was receiving up to 3.87 inches an hour.

"I promise I am not exaggerating when I say at least hundreds, if not thousands, of people are fighting for their lives right now," Needham wrote Wednesday morning.

People in the area posted hundreds of messages on Facebook and Twitter requesting rescue:

Officials closed the highway I-10 from Houston to New Orleans because the floodwaters were so high. And the Motiva oil refinery in Port Arthur, the largest in the US, was forced to shut down because of the flood, CNN reported.

Livestock were also caught in the floodwaters, and the Texas Department of Transportation posted a harrowing video of cattle running down a flooded highway:

"We aren't hearing these people crying out because they have no voice,” Needham wrote. “Many have lost power, in the best case have made it to a roof. The eyes of the world are on Houston and these smaller cities in southeast Texas are crying out and nobody can hear them."

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