Harvey to wreak ‘catastrophic and life-threatening flooding’

Update 10:15: Tropical Storm Harvey is hovering over Hochheim in DeWitt County, 80 miles south of Austin.

Maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 50 mph. The storm is expected to weaken over the next 48 hours and Harvey likely will be downgraded to a tropical depression on Sunday. Isolated storm totals may reach 40 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

"Rainfall of this magnitude will cause catastrophic and life-threatening flooding," the weather service said in its 10 p.m. advisory.

Rainfall totals of 5-15 inches are expected in Austin and the Hill Country.

Harvey is expected to drift slowly to the south or southeast over the next couple days with the center remaining over land. Tornadoes are possible through Monday on the middle and upper Texas coast and in southwest Louisiana, according to the weather service.

Update 5:45 p.m.: Throughout Saturday, rescue crews scoured Rockport homes, apartment complexes and trailer parks looking for survivors of Hurricane Harvey in need of medical attention or evacuation.

Officials said several residents were still unaccounted for as of Saturday evening.

Earlier Saturday, at a yellow brick apartment complex on the city’s northside, a crew of volunteers knocked on doors looking for residents in need of help. With its shredded roof and blasted windows, many of the complex’s units were abandoned, doors ripped open to expose flooded floors and broken furniture.

“This place is gone, gone, gone,” said maintenance manager Brian Chaffee, who also lived in the complex. “It’s get-the-bulldozer time.”

The crew, a marketing team that developed an all terrain rescue vehicle, got a response at apartment 28. An elderly man, called out from inside. William Miller’s bedroom had flooded and Miller, who is wheelchair bound and needs oxygen tanks, lived alone,

The team flagged a passing police officer who dispatched an ambulance to the complex to take Miller to a nearby elementary school serving as the city’s emergency shelter.

“I’m glad we found you William,” said Brad Snyder, owner of New Scope marketing, as the ambulance crew loaded him onto a stretcher and carried his wheelchair out of the ruined complex by hand. “You wouldn’t have made it another night.”

At the Live Oak Learning Center school, EMS staffers wheeled Miller into a darkened lobby.

About 200 Rockport residents spent the night at the school, which lost power and water during the storm. Without enough cots or bedding for everyone, evacuees were forced to sleep in chairs, on cafeteria tables and on the floor in hallways.

Many of the residents at the shelter have serious medical needs, said volunteer Christina Tucker, whose own trailer home likely was heavily damaged in the storm. “Everyone at this school has pretty much lost everything,” she said.

Tucker said that in addition to the lack of cots and bedding, the shelter needed more food and water. “As of now the jail is feeding us,” she said. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s like a sandwich per person, but it’s food.”

Damon Ortiz, an 18-year-old high school student, playing Jimi Hendrix on an acoustic guitar in a dark hallway, said residents banded together after the power went out, using trash cans from classrooms to collect dripping water and using rugs to keep rain driven by monster winds from entering the school.

Later Saturday, a convoy of federal and state rescue personnel, including dozens of buses, rushed towards Rockport to bring aid.

4:18 p.m. update: Rockport police Saturday afternoon were investigating the discovery of a body in the remains of a trailer home that burned to its steel foundation in an RV park in Fulton.

A small car next to the trailer also burned in the blaze, which police said began during Hurricane Harvey’s landfall.

The body appears to be the death reported by Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills Jr. earlier Saturday.

Fulton, just north of Rockport, received massive damage from the storm, with numerous homes and businesses destroyed. The damage was especially extreme near Fulton’s waterfront and included the 140-year-old Fulton Mansion, which suffered major roof damage and saw a huge live oak in its front yard snapped at its base.

The well known Hu Dat restaurant, owned by the family of former Dallas Cowboys star Dat Nguyen, appeared to remain relatively intact in downtown Fulton.

2:20 p.m. update: One person has been confirmed killed in Rockport, Aransas County Judge C.H. "Burt" Mills Jr. said.

Mills did not identify the individual, but said that the person was trapped inside a home when it caught fire.

“We didn’t know about it until today,” Mills said. “I hate losing anybody.”

Mills said 12 to 14 people were injured.

In their first media briefing from the city that faced perhaps the worst of the worst in Hurricane Harvey, local leaders said their city has been transformed from a sleepy coastal community into a debris field. Many public buildings have been damaged, including a school and the community’s library.

“It’s pretty sickening,” Mills said. “Lots of emotions are involved when you see your community destroyed like this, but we’ll bounce back.”

10:39 a.m. update: As the sun rose Saturday, the full extent of the catastrophic damage in Rockport became clear: the fishing village was nearly flattened, with numerous buildings flattened or overturned and snapped power lines, tree limbs and twisted metal littering the streets.

The smell of gas filled the air at the Rockport-Fulton High School where the gymnasium was destroyed; the auditorium’s doors were caved in, windows shattered.

Even as huge wind gusts and heavy rain continued to pummel the region, the road leading to Rockport was a scene of destruction: trailer homes twisted and toppled, flood waters inundating businesses and homes, debris choking the roads.

Rockport police, hampered by lack of cell phone or radio service, were assessing damage throughout the city Saturday morning and looking for any residents who might need rescue or medical help. Numerous police SUVs at the police station had their windows blasted out by the hurricane.

“Our town ain’t never going to be the same,” said officer Eli Ramos as he started a patrol.

ExploreMORE: Harvey downgraded to Category 1

As of 9:30 a.m., police said they hadn’t receiver any reports of deaths in the city. An estimated 60 percent of the town did not evacuate and authorities were following up on dozens of calls for service.

Downtown Rockport was littered with ruined businesses and historic homes that suffered catastrophic damage. Places like La Familia Salsa Company, Always Sunny fudge and ice cream and the Pelican Motel suffered extensive damage, as did an H-E-B grocery store. Palm trees were bent into unnatural positions and twisted metal signs gave evidence of the winds that tore through the city for hours last night.

Bob Kerber Jr., and his wife Dottie, who retired to normally picturesque Rockport four years ago, were cleaning up Saturday morning after riding out the hurricane overnight.

Kerber said it was a frightening situation, as 140 mph winds bounced debris off their sturdy brick home, which largely survived intact.

“I’d been through storms as a young putz in Florida, but nothing like this,” Kerber said. “It was the howling. You’re hearing all these things flying.”

A neighbor’s detached garage collapsed leaving behind a pile of rubble, and Kerber’s yard was filled with debris from around the neighborhood. Much of the neighborhood was flooded with standing water, which drew an orchestra of small bullfrogs that croaked in a steady rhythm.

“They’re the only things in Rockport that are happy about all this,” he deadpanned.

Kerber said he didn’t think his city was prepared for the storm, especially after news reports before the hurricane focused largely on Corpus Christi, 30 miles down the coast, which was spared the worst of Harvey’s fury. After the couple lost power Friday, he said they were largely without news except for occasional updates from neighbors who had evacuated.

Kerber, who lost his fence, suffered roof damage and had a beloved tangerine tree split in two, said he is girding for weeks or months of cleanup. He said the next few days will be especially difficult, without power or water service. The couple filled a tub with tap water to use in an emergency.

Shannon Barnes, 29, said he spent the night checking on elderly relatives, including a grandmother, whose home was leveled soon after she was taken out of town by another relative. He said walking through Category 4 winds was a surreal experience.

“It’s called, ‘You have no choice.’ When you care about someone so much you don’t give a shit about yourself,” Barnes said Saturday morning.

He said he expects the coming days to be tough, especially if Harvey passes back through the area, as some forecasts predict. “There’s not going to be much life here for awhile, maybe even a few months,” he said. “The only thing people will be doing is helping each other out.”

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CORPUS CHRISTI — Residents in the Coastal Bend woke up Saturday — if they slept at all while Hurricane Harvey raged — to streets filled with toppled trees and snapped power lines, as well as reports of widespread damage in the fishing village of Rockport, where the monster storm made landfall.

Packing winds up to 140 mph, the hurricane knocked out power to nearly 200,000 customers in a swath of Southeast Texas, including 146,000 in Corpus Christi, nearly half the city's population. Officials have said it could take several days to restore power to all customers.

ExploreRELATED: Harvey downgraded to Category 1

In the pre-dawn hours, the city continued to be battered by the tail end of Harvey, which has weakened to a Category 1 hurricane and has moved towards Goliad and Victoria. The hurricane is expected to churn in the area for perhaps several days, causing widespread flooding and rainfall amounts of up to 40 inches.

The popular tourist town of Port Aransas, located on the barrier island that separates Corpus Christi from the Gulf of Mexico, suffered major damage, the town’s mayor told Weather Channel on Saturday morning.

“The area of my county that has been hit the hardest is Port Aransas,” said Nueces County Judge Samuel Neal. “The eye of the storm passed right over Port Aransas. I have the mayor here in my (emergency operations center), and he’s been unable even to get back to his city this morning because of debris on the roads. But he has gotten reports of major damage in the city of Port Aransas.”

The county judge said that he had no reports of deaths.

Rockport Volunteer Fire Chief Steve Sims told CNN this morning that his department had lost all radio, cell and internet communication, and that officials wouldn’t have a sense of damage in the town until the sun came up.

Rockport Mayor C.J. Wax said the damage is widespread, although no one has been able to fully assess it yet. “We’ve got about 90 mph wind and blinding rain, and it’s too dangerous even for our first responders to go out,” the mayor told the Weather Channel Saturday morning. “When the eye passed over the community last night and we had a chance to at least get out and assess the damage, we know there is widespread devastation. Our schools have damage. We do not know of any loss of life; however, that may be only because we have not been able to get out and assess the complete impact.”

An American-Statesman crew stationed in Corpus Christi is heading to Rockport. Check back soon for updates.

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