Storm Harvey: Up to 2,000 rescued as Houston hit by ‘catastrophic floods’

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Media captionMany people have had to be rescued from flood water

Up to 2,000 people have been rescued from floods in and around Houston, as Tropical Storm Harvey continues to batter Texas with heavy rains.

There are reports of possible deaths in submerged vehicles, but investigations continue, Chief Darryl Coleman of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said.

Amid catastrophic flooding, the National Weather Service (NWS) warned that conditions were “unprecedented”.

Many shelters have been opened, including in a convention centre.

There is a “flash flood emergency” across the Houston Metro area, with travel near impossible, the NWS says.

It earlier noted reports of five deaths, but only one fatality in Houston has been confirmed.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has urged residents not to call emergency services unless their situation is life-threatening and they need to be rescued.

“Don’t get on the road. Don’t assume this storm is over,” he said.

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Houston Transtar

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A CCTV image shows a section of the I-610 freeway in Houston

Houston Bush Airport has announced that all commercial flight operations have been stopped until further notice.

Two deaths have so far been confirmed from the storm since it made landfall:

  • In Aransas County, where Rockport is the chief town, a person died in a house fire on Friday night
  • A woman died in Houston as she drove through flooded streets on Saturday

The NWS in Houston and Galveston said early on Sunday that it had recorded 24.1in (61.2cm) of measured rain in the past 24 hours.

Flooding in the Houston area is expected to worsen and “could become historic”, with “potentially significant flooding also expected in other saturated areas of south-east [Texas]”, the forecaster says.

In Rockport: Too poor to flee the hurricane

It is advising people to move to higher ground amid “an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation”.

Residents were warned not to try to travel unless “fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order”.

Like Houston, the island city of Galveston was also hit by “epic catastrophic flooding” overnight, the NWS added.

Rescue efforts are being hampered by strong winds and thousands are without power. The US Coast Guard in Houston has requested more helicopters as more people ask for help.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has mobilised 1,800 military personnel to help with rescue and repair operations.

The BBC’s James Cook, who is in Houston, says it feels like a city in crisis. Motorways are empty and abandoned cars are everywhere, he says.

Mr Abbott said another 40in of rain could be due before the storm subsides midweek.

Houston is the country’s fourth biggest city, with 6.6m people living in the metropolitan area.

The weather service has issued flash flood emergency warnings for many counties in south-eastern Texas.

“Many creeks, rivers and bayous have flooded and have surpassed previous flood record levels,” it said.

Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil has said it is shutting down the second-largest refinery in the country, at Baytown. The Texas Gulf Coast is a key centre of the US oil and gas industry.

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Media captionTexas took a battering and is witnessing severe flooding

Harvey began as a major category four hurricane – the first to make landfall in the US in 13 years when it arrived late Friday – but was downgraded to a tropical storm later on Saturday.

It is forecast to meander across south-east Texas until Wednesday.

President Donald Trump said on Twitter that he would travel to Texas “as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption”.

In another tweet, he said: “Good news is that we have great talent on the ground.”

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Media captionThe BBC’s James Cook was in Rockport, which bore the brunt of the storm

The storm is the strongest to hit the US since Charley in August 2004 and the most powerful to hit Texas since Hurricane Carla in 1961, which killed 34 people, according to the Houston Chronicle.

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