CORPUS CHRISTI: Hurricane Harvey on Friday further intensified into a dangerous category four storm, just hours before it was due to slam into Texas with a force not felt on the US mainland since 2005.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott asked President Donald Trump to declare Harvey a “major disaster” in order to speed federal assistance, issuing disaster declarations for 30 counties.
The arrival of the storm — which was packing sustained winds of 130 miles (215 kilometers) an hour — was the first major domestic challenge for Trump, who the White House said would head to the affected region early next week.
“We can obviously tell already at this stage this is going to be a very major disaster,” a somber Abbott said, as more than 1,000 National Guardsmen were activated to help with evacuation and recovery.
“We’re going to be dealing with really record-setting flooding in multiple regions.”
Coastal water levels were already rising, as the first major storm of the annual Atlantic hurricane season forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and wreaked havoc on air travel.
As of 2300 GMT, Harvey was located about 45 miles east of Corpus Christi — a major hub for the American oil industry — and moving at eight miles an hour, the National Hurricane Center said, warning of possible “catastrophic” flooding.
The storm was expected to make landfall by early Saturday on the populous Texas coast, dumping up to 40 inches (more than 100 centimeters) of rain over the next four or five days and generating storm surges of up to 12 feet.
“All the advice we can give is get out, and get out now,” said Patrick Rios, the mayor of Rockport, where a majority of the town’s 9,500 residents had left.
Rios had blunt words for those determined to stay, telling them to “mark their arm with a Sharpie pen, put their social security number” — to be identified if found dead.
Highways leading from coastal areas were jammed as authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders in many areas.
Before the storm hit, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prepositioned emergency supplies.
As he headed to the Camp David presidential retreat for the weekend with his family, Trump said: “Good luck to everybody.”