HOUSTON (CN) – At least 10 people are dead, tens of thousands have evacuated and millions more face floods and uncertainty as Southeast Texas expects another 2 feet of rain this week in addition to the more than 2 feet that have already fallen.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 near Rockport late Friday night, ripping up fences and knocking down trees, walls and freeway signs. One person died in a house fire in Rockport caused by the hurricane.
Harvey, now weakened to a tropical storm, has parked over the region, bringing unprecedented flooding. Interstate 45, from Galveston to Dallas, is impassable at some points.
The storm grounded flights at Houston’s two largest airports on Saturday and Sunday.
A few motorists were out Sunday in Houston despite repeated warnings to stay off the roads. Flooding forced many to turn around and drive the wrong way on freeways.
Patients in Ben Taub Hospital in Houston, Harris County’s public hospital, were evacuated Sunday after flooding knocked out its power.
There were numerous reports Sunday of motorists stuck on Interstate 610, which rings central Houston, because exit ramps and access roads were flooded with 3 to 6 feet of water.
Stunned Houstonians ventured out Sunday morning to find streets flooded with knee-deep water and creeks that are normally 2 feet deep on the verge of running over 20-foot bridge. Cellphones beeped with constant tornado and flash-flood warnings.
The National Weather Service issued 135 tornado warnings in Greater Houston over the weekend.
“This is the worst storm I’ve ever seen, and I’ve lived here my whole life,” Pete Rodriguez, 53, said Sunday night. “The rain is more widespread than it was during Allison.”
Tropical Storm Allison dropped more than 40 inches of rain in Texas in June 2001, and flooded more than 70,000 Houston homes. So much rain fell on sections of U.S. Route 59 during Allison that semi trucks were washed down the freeway.
Allison did $9 billion in damage and caused 41 deaths. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said on Sunday that Harvey has already been more devastating.
“It’s already the biggest flood in Texas history. People are going to lose their houses and businesses,” he told Houston’s NBC affiliate KPRC.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County CEO Ed Emmett on Sunday called on owners of boats and large pickup trucks to help rescue people from neighborhoods where the flood waters were near the top of stop signs.
Emmett said at a news conference on Sunday that Harris County law enforcement had done 1,500 to 2,000 boat rescues. Houston is Harris County’s seat.
The Coast Guard deployed 13 helicopter crews in Greater Houston and began search-and-rescue missions at 1 a.m. Sunday, urging frantic people to climb onto their roofs and wave towels to catch the eye of helicopter pilots, as flood waters reached the second stories of some homes and apartments.
By Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott had activated the entire Texas National Guard for search and rescue efforts, bringing the total deployment to about 12,000 troops.
News reports on Sunday night showed Harris County law enforcement dropping off people in dump trucks at a large convention center downtown that has become the main shelter.
Many Houston residents were getting rides to shelters on Metro buses Sunday.
Officials said more than 56,000 911 calls were made in Houston from late Saturday through Sunday afternoon, forcing first responders to tell people to call 911 only in a dire emergency, not if they had ankle-deep water in their homes.
Turner brushed off critics who questioned why he did not order a mandatory evacuation of Houston before Harvey hit, saying that the exodus would have overwhelmed the freeways.
“You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road. If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare,” he said. Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, has more than 2.3 million residents, and nearly 6 million people live in the nine-county region of Greater Houston.
The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water from two reservoirs in northwest Houston on Sunday that catch runoff from the upper watershed of Buffalo Bayou, which flows through downtown Houston and topped its banks Sunday.
The Corps said early Monday that it planned to release 4,000 cubic feet of water per second each from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs to reduce the risk of dam failure, which would exacerbate the flooding that has paralyzed Houston.
Officials said Monday morning that homes and roads downstream from the dams are already being flooded by the controlled release.
The Corps on Engineers urged people in the already soaked neighborhoods that will absorb the dam runoff to consider evacuating.
“It’s going to be better to release the water through the gates directly into Buffalo Bayou as opposed to letting it go around the end and through additional neighborhoods and ultimately into the bayou,” the Corps’ Galveston District commander Col. Lars Zetterstrom, said in a statement.
Houston Independent School District, which was to begin classes Monday, has canceled classes for all week. Many nearby school districts have canceled classes until at least Wednesday.
Harris County Court Clerk Chris Daniel said all courts will be closed on Monday, and might also be closed Tuesday.
CenterPoint Energy reported early Monday morning that the power is out in more than 82,000 Houston-area homes and that flood waters are blocking its crews from getting into parts of the city.
Forecasters expect another 25 to 30 inches of rain in Greater Houston this week, adding to the nearly 30 inches have fallen in some parts of the city, forcing residents to escape on inflatable beds and wade through chest-high water, many of them carrying children and dogs.
A video of a bare-chested Houston man diving after a catfish in the knee-deep brown flood water in his living room, and grabbing the fish by the tail, went viral on social media Sunday.
President Donald Trump has issued disaster and emergency declarations for Texas and parts of Louisiana.