2 dead as Harvey continues to churn over Texas, ‘extremely serious’ flooding unfolding

(ABC News) — Though Hurricane Harvey weakened to a tropical storm by Saturday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned of additional downpours forecast to drench already flooded communities in the coming hours and days.

“Our biggest concern is between 20 and 30 more inches of rain in areas ranging from Corpus Christi over to Houston,” Abbott said at a press conference Saturday afternoon. “We want to do everything we possibly can to keep people out of rising water.”

Abbott said search-and-rescue missions and cleanup efforts have already begun in some parts of Texas, after Harvey slammed into the state’s Gulf Coast Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane, unleashing a dangerous wrath of torrential rain and 130 mph winds. By Saturday afternoon, Harvey had gradually downgraded to a tropical storm as maximum sustained winds dropped to 60 mph by the evening, but the National Weather Service still warned of a “serious flooding event unfolding” inland over Texas, as well as “torrential rains.”

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One person died in flooding in Houston, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo confirmed late Saturday. It’s the second confirmed death from Harvey.

“Sadly we have lost one female member of our community who encountered floodwaters in her vehicle, got out and was swept away,” Acevedo said. “We also have reports of one other brutality but have not confirmed it.”

At a press conference Saturday night, Turner said, “It’s a serious storm. It’s going to last four or five days — and today is day one.” He urged residents to refrain from driving.

“Heavy rain band stalled over city for several hours, get off the roadways now,” Acevedo tweeted Saturday night. “Use extreme caution flooding is widespread on roads.”

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And those who did not heed the aforementioned warning found themselves stranded. “In the last 10 mins we have gotten several calls of people stranded on the roads,” Turner tweeted Saturday night. “Please help us keep you safe and help 1st responders.”

Because of heavy rainfall, Sylvester at the press conference said several rivers were rising above banks. Homes in the west part of the city were also experiencing flooding, he said.

The city’s public transportation agency announced Saturday night that it was suspending all bus and rail service.

Flooding was also reported in the area around Hobby Airport.

As of 7 p.m. local time, the storm had barely moved for hours, its center hovering about 40 miles from Victoria, Texas.

Abbott, who visited with evacuees from the Corpus Christi area in San Antonio, said the displaced residents he met are in “strong” spirits despite the damage done and the ominous forecast.

“They are what I call typical Texans. They were resilient, they were strong, they were strong-spirited, they were happy,” he told reporters at the press conference Saturday afternoon. “They were just happy to be there and be alive.”

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But Harvey has already proven to be deadly. In the Texas coastal city of Rockport, one person was confirmed dead Saturday afternoon as a result of the storm. More victims are likely, officials there said.

Although Harvey is projected to churn over southeastern Texas through the weekend, residents in hard-hit communities re-emerged Saturday to assess the damage and risk their lives to save others after a tumultuous night of rain, wind and reported tornadoes.

Here’s what you need to know about the strongest storm to hit the Lone Star State in decades:

What’s ahead: More rain, flooding, tornadoes

What can Texans expect from this storm as it hovers over the region? Rain — and lots of it.

At 2:30 a.m. local time Saturday, as much as 9.6 inches of rain had already fallen in Texas. Around 9:30 a.m. local time Saturday, 14.46 inches of rain had accumulated in an area in Austwell and more than 10 inches was recorded in Fulshear, according to the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi.

Although Harvey is expected to weaken further, it will also slow down and meander between Victoria and San Antonio through the weekend.

“We are still expecting 25 to 30 inches [of rain] across southeast Texas,” ABC News Meteorologist Daniel Manzo said Saturday. “This is in addition to what has already fallen this morning.”

Flash-flood watches and warnings were in effect Saturday for much of southeastern Texas. Around 40 inches of rain is expected in some areas.

The latest forecast track shows Harvey heading back toward the coastline and interacting with the warm waters of the Gulf Coast early next week. This means areas that were already hit hard along the Texas coast should expect even more rain and wind, setting the stage for potentially catastrophic flooding.

Harvey is projected to take off Wednesday heading northeast and moving further inland into Texas, but staying west of Houston.

The storm is an evolving system, and its track could change.

Tornadoes are also a concern as there is a high risk of them in the region.

A tornado watch was issued Saturday in the early morning hours for parts of Texas and Louisiana. The warning was expanded inland and extended through much of Saturday, according to ABC News meteorologists.

ABC affiliate KTRK-TV in Houston reported that a possible tornado was spotted in Texas’ Fort Bend County. KTRK also reported tornado damage to as many as 50 homes in Missouri City.

At 4 p.m. local time, a tornado was confirmed near Cypress as well.

Injured residents

The full extent of injuries in Texas overnight remains unclear. Around midnight local time, Rockport City Manager Kevin Carruth said a total of 10 people were being treated for injuries stemming from Harvey.

Among the wounded were those at a senior housing complex, where the roof collapsed. Rescuers were able to transport the injured to a local jail that was serving as a makeshift medical center, Carruth said.

Abbott said at the press conference Saturday afternoon that he could not confirm any fatalities from the storm. However, officials later confirmed that one person was dead in Rockport as a result of the storm.

Damaged structures

In Rockport, some 31 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, the city manager told ABC News that multiple buildings had been damaged, including the courthouse and the public school. The coastal community experienced peak wind surges of more than 125 mph overnight, according to the National Weather Service.

Rockport Volunteer Fire Department Chief Steve Sims told ABC News early Saturday that about 22 firefighters were still hunkered down at the local fire station. The department then had about 25 to 30 pending calls, Sims said, but firefighters weren’t able to respond until weather conditions improved.

“We have been working on lists trying to prioritize the calls that we have waiting,” Sims said.

Fortunately, Sims said, the firehouse has fared well in the storm thus far.

“It rattled, it shook, but made it through it,” he said.

Meanwhile, images out of Corpus Christi showed flooded streets, destroyed buildings and debris.

In Missouri City, a reporter with KTRK tweeted photos of downed trees and houses without roofs.

In Fort Bend County, Major Chad Norvell of the sheriff’s office tweeted, “Confirmed roof torn off by possible tornado on Vieux Carre in Sienna. Minor injuries reported.”

A subsequent tweet said, “Minor damage to other homes in Sienna. Trees down.”

In Victoria, an Exxon station was also damaged by severe winds, and street signs were strewn across thoroughfares.

Power outages

As of 1 p.m. local time Saturday, more than 300,000 customers were without power along Texas’ Gulf Coast due to Hurricane Harvey’s wrath, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the flow of electric power to 24 million Texas customers, representing 90 percent of the state’s electric load.

Abbott said it could take several days before power outages can be addressed because the wind speed in the affected areas has to decrease below a certain level before officials are able to respond.

How officials are responding

At Abbott’s request, President Donald Trump on Saturday issued a major disaster declaration that immediately allows federal aid to flow to Texas’ state and local recovery efforts in areas affected by Harvey. This means residents, cities and counties can begin the “rebuilding process” as quickly as possible, Abbott said.

Abbott has issued a proclamation waiving hotel taxes and state park fees for evacuees and first responders anywhere in Texas affected by the storm.

By Saturday afternoon, some 1,000 personnel had been assigned to search-and-rescue operations across Texas and the state’s military department had deployed more than 1,800 service members to assist in responding to Harvey’s aftermath. The state’s public safety department had also assigned 80 troopers to the Corpus Christi area to assist in law enforcement needs, Abbott said.

Texas’ transportation department had 228 buses ready to move evacuees to safety. More than 100 bus trips were already made by Saturday afternoon, Abbott said.

“It was so heartening to shake the hands of these evacuees as they got off these buses,” the Texas governor said at a press conference. “They were just happy to be alive.”

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard responded to “vessels in distress” near Port Aransas on Saturday morning, after its Corpus Christi sector received “mayday notifications from crewmembers aboard the tugboats Belle Chase, Sandy Point, and Sabine Pass.”

Two MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrews were deployed from the Coast Guard’s air station in Corpus Christi to assist the rescue.

“As information continues to come into the Coast Guard, we continue to monitor and respond to any situations for safety of life at sea,” Capt. Tony Hahn, commander of Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi, said in a statement Saturday morning.

Aircraft were also deployed from Corpus Christi “to conduct patrols and assess damage” in the area with the intent of reopening the port of Brownsville, the Coast Guard said while urging Texas residents to “stay safe and not venture out while storm damage is assessed.” Other crews in shallow-draft vessels, capable of responding in flooded urban areas, headed to parts of Texas and Louisiana.

Trump tweeted Saturday morning that he’s “closely monitoring” the storm from Camp David, the rustic presidential retreat Camp David in Frederick County, Maryland.

In an earlier tweet, the president cheered on Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long saying, “You are doing a great job – the world is watching! Be safe.”

According to Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, Trump is planning to visit the state early next week.

FEMA is also “closely” monitoring the storm and “working around the clock to prepare and support” efforts on the ground, Brock said in a tweet Friday morning.

Storm preparations began earlier this week in both Texas and Louisiana. As of Saturday afternoon, FEMA had amassed more than 396,000 liters of water, 524,000 meals, 4,500 tarps and 53 generators at incident support bases and staging areas in Texas and Louisiana, should the states need them.

FEMA officials were also in New Orleans on Friday working to make sure the Louisiana city’s pumps are functioning in anticipation of the 7 to 10 inches of rainfall expected there. The National Guard had also readied 500,000 sandbags, FEMA said.

According to Abbott, the American Red Cross had opened 21 shelters where 1,450 people displaced by the storm were staying as of Saturday afternoon, and 42 more shelters were on standby if needed. Officials were also in the process of getting food, water, ice and other supplies to communities in need and setting up staging areas so those supplies could be distributed.

A spokesperson for the American Red Cross told ABC News they also have hundreds of trained disaster relief workers in Texas as well as truckloads of kitchen supplies, tens of thousands of ready-to-eat meals and trailers packed with shelter supplies that include cots and blankets.

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