Storm Harvey threatens Texas with 'catastrophic' floods, one dead

The most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years has killed at least one person and is now threatening catastrophic flooding as search and rescue teams deploy to the hardest-hit zones, authorities said on Saturday.

Harvey slammed into Texas, the heart of the U.S. oil and gas industry, late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 miles per hour (209 km per hour), making it the strongest storm to strike the state since 1961.

It ripped off roofs, snapped trees, and triggered tornadoes and flash floods, and cut power to nearly a quarter of a million people. It also curtailed a large portion of America's oil and fuel production, prompting price hikes at the pumps.

Harvey has since weakened to a tropical storm, but is expected to lash Texas for days as it lumbers inland, bringing as much as 40 inches (102 cm) of rain to some areas, and affecting heavily populated.

Houston could receive as much as 2 to 3 inches of rain per hour overnight, Mayor Sylvester Turner said late on Saturday. The National Hurricane Center described the rain forecast for the state as potentially "catastrophic."

See Also: U.S Coast Guard monitoring stranded cruise ships

"Rainfall measured in feet rather than inches can certainly create a catastrophic flood," spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

One person died in a house fire in the town of Rockport, 30 miles (48 km) north of the city of Corpus Christi, as Harvey roared ashore overnight, Mayor Charles Wax said in a news conference on Saturday, marking the first confirmed fatality from the storm. Another dozen people in the area suffered injuries like broken bones, another official said.

The town took a direct hit from the storm and had streets flooded and strewn with power lines and debris on Saturday afternoon. At a recreational vehicle sales lot, a dozen vehicles were flipped over and one had been blown into the middle of the street. By Saturday evening, a convoy of military vehicles had arrived in the Rockport area with people and equipment to help in the recovery efforts, and town officials announced an overnight curfew for residents.

"It was terrible," resident Joel Valdez, 57, told Reuters. The storm ripped part of the roof from his trailer home at around 4 a.m., he said as he sat in a Jeep with windows smashed by the storm. "I could feel the whole house move."

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HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 27: Andrew White (L) helps a neighbor down a street after rescuing her from her home in his boat in the upscale River Oaks neighborhood after it was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A graveyard is seen as it floods during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey August 27, 2017 in Pearland, Texas. Hurricane Harvey left a trail of devastation Saturday after the most powerful storm to hit the US mainland in over a decade slammed into Texas, destroying homes, severing power supplies and forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A family is rescued from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey on a boat in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Local resident Kathy Neihaet walks through her damaged neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey hit Port Aransas, Texas on August 27, 2017. Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast with forecasters saying its possible for up to three feet of rain and 125 mpg wind. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
A flipped over truck and flooding are seen after Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas, U.S., on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. As Harvey's winds die down, trouble for Texas has just begun as days of flooding rains across the heart of U.S. energy production threaten the country's fourth-largest city and leave farmers struggling to save horses, cows and crops. Photographer: Alex Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Flooding and a damaged home are seen after Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas, U.S., on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. As Harvey's winds die down, trouble for Texas has just begun as days of flooding rains across the heart of U.S. energy production threaten the country's fourth-largest city and leave farmers struggling to save horses, cows and crops. Photographer: Alex Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Hurricane Harvey damage is seen in Bayside, TX August 26, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel KRAMER (Photo credit should read DANIEL KRAMER/AFP/Getty Images)
CITY-BY-The Sea, TX - AUGUST 26: Cows make their way through fallen power lines along the road near City-By-The Sea, TX as Hurricane Harvey hits the Texas coast on Saturday, Aug 26, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
People push a disabled car during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey August 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Hurricane Harvey left a trail of devastation Saturday after the most powerful storm to hit the US mainland in over a decade slammed into Texas, destroying homes, severing power supplies and forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
ROCKPORT, TX - AUGUST 26: Firefighters search for survivors at an apartment complex in Rockport, TX as Hurricane Harvey hits the Texas coast on Saturday, Aug 26, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Sterling Broughton is moved from a rescue boat onto a kayak in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People are rescued from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in an armored police mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Texas National Guard soldiers aid stranded residents in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 27, 2017. Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD/Texas Military Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
A condominium complex is reduced to rubble after Hurricane Harvey struck Rockport, Texas August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Tim Freiberg moves through what was his garage after Hurricane Harvey struck Rockport, Texas August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Housing surrounded by flood waters caused by Hurricane Harvey is seen from a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter during an overflight from Port Aransas to Port O'Connor, Texas, August 26, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Johanna Strickland/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY.
A woman uses a coat hanger to try and retrieve an item from a destroyed house after Hurricane Harvey struck Fulton, Texas, August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A man walks past a business which was left damaged after Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas, U.S. August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
A ranch house is surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey near Port Lavaca, Texas, August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Dead cows killed in Hurricane Harvey lie on highway 35 near Fulton, Texas, August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A storage facility that took damage from a tornado that spun off of Hurricane Harvey after the storm made landfall on the Texas Gulf coast, in Katy, Texas, U.S. August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Damage to the First Baptist Church of Rockport after Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas on August 26, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
People make their way down partially flooded roads following the passage of Hurricane Harvey on August 26, 2017 in Galveston, Texas. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A tree sits uprooted after Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas, U.S., on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. As Harvey's winds die down, trouble for Texas has just begun as days of flooding rains across the heart of U.S. energy production threaten the country's fourth-largest city and leave farmers struggling to save horses, cows and crops. Photographer: Alex Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People walk through flooded streets as the effects of Hurricane Henry are seen August 26, 2017 in Galveston, Texas. Hurricane Harvey left a trail of devastation Saturday after the most powerful storm to hit the US mainland in over a decade slammed into Texas, destroying homes, severing power supplies and forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Vehicles drive through a flooded street as the effects of Hurricane Henry are seen August 26, 2017 in Galveston, Texas. Hurricane Harvey left a trail of devastation Saturday after the most powerful storm to hit the US mainland in over a decade slammed into Texas, destroying homes, severing power supplies and forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Palm trees sit collapsed after Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas, U.S., on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. As Harvey's winds die down, trouble for Texas has just begun as days of flooding rains across the heart of U.S. energy production threaten the country's fourth-largest city and leave farmers struggling to save horses, cows and crops. Photographer: Alex Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Badly damaged light planes in their hanger at Rockport Airport after heavy damage when Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas on August 26, 2017. Hurricane Harvey left a trail of devastation Saturday after the most powerful storm to hit the US mainland in over a decade slammed into Texas, destroying homes, severing power supplies and forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee. / AFP PHOTO / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Damage is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey August 26, 2017 in Katy, Texas. Hurricane Harvey stalled over central Texas on Saturday, August 26, 2017, raising fears of 'catastrophic' flooding after the megastorm -- the most powerful to hit the United States since 2005 -- left a deadly trail of devastation along the Gulf Coast. The latest forecasts show that Harvey, now downgraded to tropical storm status, will hover along the shore for the next four or five days, dumping massive amounts of rain. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Before the storm hit, Rockport's mayor told anyone staying behind to write their names on their arms for identification in case of death or injury. A high school, hotel, senior housing complex and other buildings suffered structural damage, according to emergency officials and local media. Some were being used as shelters.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Saturday said he was activating 1,800 members of the military to help with the statewide cleanup, while 1,000 people would conduct search-and-rescue operations.

The streets of Corpus Christi, which has around 320,000 residents, were deserted on Saturday, with billboards twisted and strong winds still blowing. City authorities asked residents to reduce use of toilets and faucets because power outages left waste water plants unable to treat sewage.

Elsewhere, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it was forced to evacuate some 4,500 inmates from three state prisons near the Brazos River because of rising water. Texas utility companies, meanwhile, said 220,000 customers were without power for an indefinite period of time.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had rescued 20 people from distressed vessels on Saturday, and was also monitoring two Carnival Corp cruise ships carrying thousands of people stranded in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico due to the effects of the storm.

See Also: Rockport, Texas mayor says 1 dead in house fire during Harvey

Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit the coast, the second-highest category, and the most powerful storm in over a decade to come ashore anywhere in the mainland United States.

HEADING INLAND, STORM WEAKENS

Harvey weakened to tropical storm from hurricane strength on Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The center of the storm was barely moving and was less than 150 miles (240 km) from Houston with sustained winds of 60 mph.

Houston, the fourth most populous city in the United States and home to a third of the 6 million people that could be impacted by Harvey, has gotten about 16 inches of rain so far, and will receive 2 to 3 more feet in the coming days, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Saturday afternoon.

"This is serious," Turner said in a televised interview as Harvey turned into a tropical storm expected to linger over the mid Texas coast. "It is important that people stay off the roads." Turner said the city, which has faced flooding in recent years during smaller storms, is prepared for what he described as a "major water event."

Other authorities warned of the potentially life-threatening impact of heavy rains between Houston and Corpus Christi over the next several days.

The latest forecast storm track has Harvey looping back toward the Gulf of Mexico coast before turning north again on Tuesday.

See Also: Trump praises FEMA head over Hurricane Harvey response as Texas braces for immense flooding

"This rain will lead to a prolonged, dangerous, and potentially catastrophic flooding event well into next week," the National Weather Service said.

The size and strength of Harvey dredged up memories of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that made a direct hit on New Orleans as a Category 3 storm, causing levees and flood walls to fail in dozens of places. About 1,800 died in the disaster made worse by a slow government emergency response.

U.S. President Donald Trump, facing the first big natural disaster of his term, signed a disaster proclamation on Friday.

He met with his cabinet and staff on Saturday to discuss the federal reaction to the storm, according to a White House statement.

"President Trump emphasized his expectations that all departments and agencies stay fully engaged and positioned to support his number one priority of saving lives," according to the statement.

See Also: US Black Hawk helicopter crashes, 1 service member missing

GASOLINE PRICES SPIKE

Utilities American Electric Power Company Inc and CenterPoint Energy Inc reported a combined total of around 240,000 customers without power.

Several refiners shut down plants ahead of the storm, disrupting supplies and pushing prices higher. Many fuel stations ran out of gasoline before the storm hit, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency loosened gasoline specifications late on Friday to reduce shortages.

The American Automobiles Association said pump prices rose 4 cents in four days in Texas to reach $2.17 a gallon on Friday.

Disruptions to fuel supply drove benchmark gasoline futures to their highest price in four months.

More than 45 percent of the country's refining capacity is along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation's crude is produced offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

Just under 25 percent of Gulf output, or 429,000 barrels per day (bpd) had been shut in by the storm, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said on Saturday.

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