Donald Trump holds a Texan flag after receiving a briefing on Harvey. (Reuters: Carlos Barria)
US President Donald Trump has touched down in Texas to assess the response to devastating Tropical Storm Harvey — the biggest natural disaster of his White House tenure — as officials in Houston struggled to manage the record-breaking rains.
- Levees and embankments have been breached intensiying the flooding
- At least nine people have been confirmed killed, tens of thousands in shelters
- Mr Trump is to visit Corpus Christi, Austin — Houston reportedly off limits
- Harvey is expected to hit Louisiana next, which Hurricane Katrina destroyed in 2005
The slow-moving storm has brought catastrophic flooding to Texas, killed at least 11 people, led to mass evacuations, and paralysed Houston, the fourth most-populous US city — some 30,000 people were expected to seek emergency shelter as the flooding entered its fourth day.
Mr Trump, speaking in Corpus Christi near where Harvey first came ashore last week as the most powerful hurricane to strike Texas in more than 50 years, said he wanted the relief effort to stand as an example of how to respond to a storm.
“We want to do it better than ever before,” he said.
The President later spoke to a crowd of people affected by the storm.
“This storm, it’s epic what happened. But you know what, it happened in Texas and Texas can handle anything,” Mr Trump said.
An 11th death was reported on Tuesday — Houston police sergeant Steve Perez, 60, a 34-year veteran of the force whose body was found after apparently drowning while attempting to get to work on Sunday, police chief Art Acevedo told reporters.
Mr Acevedo said Mr Perez’s family had urged him not to leave the house because of the dangerous flooding but the officer told them, “We have work to do”.
Officials in Harris County, where Houston is located, said reservoirs built to handle drainage water were beginning to overflow — they urged residents to evacuate as they released water to alleviate pressure on two dams, a move that would add to flooding along the Buffalo Bayou waterway that runs through the area.
Brazoria County, south of Houston, also called for immediate evacuations around a levee at Columbia Lakes that had been breached by Harvey’s floodwaters.
Some 3,500 people have already been rescued from high waters in the Houston area with police, firefighters and National Guard troops continuing to try to locate those marooned in high waters.
“This is a storm of historic proportions. Not just to the city of Houston and not just to Harris County but to the entire region,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters, adding that city shelters would be open to all people fleeing the storm.
“We are making ourselves available.”
Metropolitan Houston remains underwater
The storm broke Texas rainfall records at one measuring site south of Houston, which recorded 1.25 metres of precipitation since the storm’s start — the rainfall is more than the region typically sees in a year and exceeds the 1.22 metres recorded in 1978.
Harvey has roiled energy markets and wrought damage estimated to be in the billions of dollars, with rebuilding likely to last beyond Mr Trump’s four-year term in office.
While much of the damage in Houston has been rain-related, the storm’s winds picked up overnight, bending street signs and tearing at metal fences downtown.
Much of the Houston metropolitan area, where 6.8 million people live, remained underwater on Tuesday (local time). Dangerous rescues went on through the night.
About 9,000 evacuees were staying at Houston’s George R Brown Convention Centre and Mayor Turner said his office had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assets to allow the city to shelter another 10,000 people.
“I’m just trying to stay strong,” said Julio Gamez, 35, who evacuated to the centre on Saturday night with his wife after floodwaters rose to within half a metre of his roof.
“Everything’s gone. We’ve lost everything. But at least we’re safe.”
Harvey was expected to reach Louisiana early on Wednesday — one day after the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hit the state and killed 1,800 people.
The slow-moving storm’s centre was likely to remain just off the coast of Texas through Tuesday night (local time) before moving inland over the north-western Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, according to the US National Hurricane Centre.
Since coming ashore, Harvey has virtually stalled along the Texas coast, picking up warm water from the Gulf of Mexico and dumping torrential rain from San Antonio to Louisiana.