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Hurricane Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon, but weather forecasters warned of “catastrophic” inland flooding as damage assessments along the Texas coast confirmed the storm’s destructive force. Harvey made a lashing landfall at Rockport just north of Corpus Christi on Friday night, devastating the small fishing and residential resort community as a Category 4 hurricane with 130 mph winds.
Hampered by downed power lines and flooded, debris-strewn roads, first responders struggled to reach some areas believed to have sustained the worst damage in the fiercest hurricane to hit Texas since 1961.
Officials in Rockport, a town of 10,000 people, reported one storm-related fatality and heavy damage to the town’s historic downtown, Rockport-Fulton High School, and the general-aviation Aransas County Airport. Photos from airport showed an open hangar that collapsed onto at least two small planes, snapping a wing off one of them.
Video posted on YouTube by Live Storms Media shows Rockport’s H-E-B store missing part of its facade and roof and a heavily damaged Bealls department store. Early photos from just outside Rockport show overturned boats and recreational vehicles, ruined piers, and a multi-story boat barn with its outer sheet metal shell stripped away.
“We know there is widespread devastation,” Rockport Mayor C.J. Wax told the Weather Channel in a televised interview. “I think it’s safe to say we took a Cat 4 [hurricane] right on the nose, and we’d appreciate everyone’s prayers.”
Storm debris slowed efforts by first responders to reach Port Aransas to assess damage, Mayor Charles Bujan stated in a Facebook post Saturday morning. Authorities there had instituted a mandatory evacuation.
“Our police force and heavy [equipment] have made it to city limits and as far north as Pioneer trailer park,” he stated. “The park is a 100% loss. Our police crews are now in the park working search and rescue.”
Building on warm Gulf waters as it slowly approached landfall, Harvey quickly intensified from a Category 2 to 3 and then 4 hurricane Friday afternoon. By the time the eye of the storm passed Saturday morning, more than 100,000 residents in Nueces County, which includes Corpus Christi, were without power. Up to 200,000 residents along the state’s coastal bend were without power, according to public utilities.
As it subsided into a tropical storm, Harvey had sustained winds of up to 70 miles per hour, and rainfall totals of up to 16 inches had been reported in some coastal areas by Saturday morning while Houston was drenched by up to 3 inches of rain an hour. As of 1 p.m., the storm was centered 45 miles west-northwest of Victoria.
Flood risk from the Brazos River prompted the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to begin evacuating approximately 4,500 prison inmates in Brazoria County west of Houston.
On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott sent the Trump administration a Request for a Presidential Disaster Declaration, which was granted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about the same time that Harvey was making landfall.
Such assistance will provide hurricane victims with disaster relief assistance and help communities most affected by the storm damage to rebuild.
The damaging winds, intense rainfall, and a dangerously high storm surge that come with a Category 4 hurricane have not been seen along the Coastal Bend since Category 4 Carla hit Port O’Connor and Palacios in September 1961. Category 3 Hurricane Celia devastated Corpus Christi in August 1970.
Meanwhile, San Antonio experienced gusty winds overnight and into Saturday morning but only sporadic rainfall and isolated flooding. Area officials have emergency plans to respond to widespread flooding if it occurs here.
Officials also are managing the arrival of thousands of residents evacuating low-lying areas of the Texas coast. Calls for coastal residents to evacuate to safer, inland destinations were voluntary in some areas and mandatory in others, and not necessarily adhered. Downtown hotels were welcoming some of the evacuees who can afford to sit out the storm in the relative comfort and safety in San Antonio, while shelters were providing refuge for others.
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“Although there have been some changes to the weather projections, we are still expecting several inches of rain over the weekend and through the early part of next week,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Friday afternoon. “That will likely produce localized flooding.”
City officials are asking residents to use the 311 telephone service to report downed trees, rising creeks, flooding streets, downed power lights, or other storm-related damage.
CPS Energy and SAWS representatives attended a press conference with the mayor, assuring customers that they would seek to provide safe and reliable service throughout the weekend. The National Hurricane Center has forecast potential wind impacts from 40-50 miles per hour, which could cause power outages.
The San Antonio Fire Department reported that as of Saturday morning, the City had 955 evacuees staying in shelters. Approximately 200 medical evacuees also have been transported from areas in the hurricane’s expected path. The Red Cross expected the arrival of thousands more, both by bus and by private vehicles.
During a Friday evening visit to an evacuation center at Abraham Kazen Middle School, Gov. Greg Abbott praised the city’s efforts in providing food and shelter to evacuees. However, he asked San Antonio residents to donate items needed immediately at shelters.
“If you have non-monetary donations, they should be brought here,” Abbott said. “Baby formulas, supplies for babies. Also there are specific requests for blankets and towels that are desperately [needed] tonight.”
The City stated that all donations should be brought to the San Antonio Food Bank at 5200 Enrique M. Barrera Pkwy, and not to individual shelters.
Asked whether people seeking shelter would be questioned about their immigration status, Abbott reiterated that the most important concern for everyone fleeing the storm in Texas should be protecting their lives. Any individual seeking shelter in San Antonio will only be asked one question, he said: What can we do to help you?
Workers at the San Antonio office for the American Red Cross were training more than 150 volunteers to assist the thousands expected to seek shelter in the city throughout the weekend.
“The need for volunteers is so huge right now,” Red Cross Senior Volunteer Specialist Jordan Cline said. “We can’t have enough volunteers, basically. Especially volunteers that would be okay staying overnight, and volunteers that are Spanish-speaking or fluent in sign language.”
The organization established a volunteer intake center Saturday at their 3642 E. Houston St. office. Any San Antonians interested in contributing to volunteer efforts should go through the Red Cross to do so, according to city officials. Volunteers that register with the Red Cross will be trained in general shelter services, which includes registering clients, feeding evacuees, and supervising dormitories.
“Just being there to trouble shoot, and talk with the residents,” Cline said. “Be a shoulder to cry on if needed.”
At a training session for volunteers Friday afternoon, instructors skipped over their typical instruction practices to rapidly prepare people for staffing the two shelters currently being operated by Red Cross members. Men, women, and children all filled seats and lined across available wall space inside the packed training room.
Cline reported that the Red Cross was expecting 500 to 1,000 volunteers in San Antonio. Michael Burgess was one of the veteran volunteers at the afternoon training session. He assisted evacuees fleeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina to Louisiana and Mississippi in August 2005.
“It was a very humbling experience,” Burgess said. “I saw a lot of people come in that were displaced and didn’t know what was coming the next day. It was very gratifying for me to try and be there to help them, get them some kind of comfort.”
Despite the rushed preparations, volunteers were energized and prepared to lend assistance.
“It’s gonna be bad,” Cline said. “We’re hearing it’s been decades since something like this has happened. We’re talking [Hurricane] Katrina level, possibly. We’re gearing up for it to be a pretty bad storm, pretty bad devastation.”
The Bexar County Emergency Management webpage offers information on general emergency preparedness, including lists of recommended items to include in a basic emergency supplies kit. The San Antonio Office of Emergency Management (SAOEM) recommends downloading the Ready South Texas App, which delivers the latest alerts and emergency notifications to the user’s smartphone, provides evacuations maps and safe routes, and locates the nearest emergency shelters and service areas. The American Red Cross recommends downloading its disaster apps for emergency updates and information relating to specific crises, including one for hurricanes.
Cancelled or Postponed Events
Numerous events scheduled for this weekend have been either cancelled or postponed due to the storm. Those planning on attending any weekend event, indoor or outdoor, are recommended to contact event organizers for updated information. Organizers are welcome to send cancellation and postponement notices to the Rivard Report. Get information about school-related closures here.
The Majestic and Empire theaters have rescheduled all weekend shows, including Lyle Lovett, “1964 The Tribute,” and “Broadway Sings the Playhouse.” Refunds are available for ticket holders that cannot attend the rescheduled shows.
The Pearl is rescheduling its planned events for this weekend, including the Historic Homeowner Fair and Canciones. Canciones will now be held on Sept. 1, the Historic Homeowner Fair will be held on Sept. 30, and the Pearl Farmer’s Market will return next weekend.
The Playhouse San Antonio has rescheduled its annual gala from Aug. 26 to Sept. 2 at the Empire Theater.
The Alamo Colleges, their district offices, and all off-site locations will be closed during the weekend.
The San Antonio FC match against the Portland Timbers scheduled for Saturday has been rescheduled for Oct. 11.
The University of Incarnate Word cancelled all Saturday classes. The UIW Classic Cardinal Volleyball tournament and the Sunday night women’s soccer match have both been cancelled. The Blessing of the Athletes scheduled for Sunday has been postponed.