As Harvey breaks rainfall record, Houston imposes a curfew and death toll climbs to 18

As Harvey breaks rainfall record, Houston imposes a curfew and death toll climbs to 18

Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske reports on the thousands of evacuees at Houston’s convention center as they struggle to cope with Tropical Storm Harvey.
Jenny Jarvie and Molly Hennessy-FiskeContact Reporter

City officials in Houston imposed an overnight curfew to guard against opportunistic crimes as Tropical Storm Harvey continued to deluge southeast Texas on Tuesday, breaking the record for the most extreme rainfall on the U.S. mainland.

Authorities announced the curfew — midnight to 5 a.m. — after police arrested a crew of armed robbers who were hijacking vehicles, and officials warned residents of people impersonating Homeland Security investigators. There also were fears of looting as thousands of houses lay partially submerged and abandoned.

Since Harvey made landfall Friday night as a hurricane, some areas around Houston have seen in excess of 50 inches of rain — more than what they usually receive in a year. Authorities said the death toll had risen to 18, including a Houston police officer who drowned in his car on the way to work.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Mont Belvieu industrial suburb east of Houston recorded 51.12 inches of water since Harvey’s arrival, breaking the highest previous record of 48 inches for a single storm, from Tropical Storm Amelia in Medina, Texas, in 1978.

“It’s the heaviest storm on record anywhere in the U.S. outside Hawaii,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist and professor at Texas A&M University. “And it’s still raining.”

With muddy brown water engulfing huge areas of the nation’s fourth-largest city and much of the Gulf Coast, thousands were forced to seek refuge in shelters. Federal officials have estimated that as many as 30,000 displaced residents may seek temporary shelter and more than 450,000 people are likely to apply for federal aid.

“In four days, we’ve seen a trillion gallons of water in Harris County — enough water to run Niagara Falls for 15 days,” said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District, who estimated that up to 100,000 homes in the 1,777-square-mile area may have flooded. “It’s beyond anything we’ve ever seen and will probably ever see.”

After moving slowly east Tuesday evening, Harvey was poised to turn northeast early Wednesday and make a second landfall, moving inland over southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.

After assuring Texas on Monday that Congress would deliver swift federal assistance, President Trump visited the storm-ravaged state Tuesday, saying he hoped the region’s long road to recovery would be viewed as a model.

He did not venture to Houston, where rescuers continued to rove from neighborhood to neighborhood in motorboats and kayaks, desperately trying to pluck residents from waterlogged homes. As a light rain drizzled, a reservoir west of downtown Houston spilled over Tuesday morning for the first time in its history, pouring yet more water onto already sodden communities.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo broke down in tears Tuesday as he announced that Sgt. Steve Perez, 60, a 34-year veteran of his department, drowned during the weekend while trying to get to work through an underpass in the darkness.

“He laid down his life,” Acevedo said during a briefing, noting that before Perez left for work he told his wife, who urged him to stay home: “I’ve got work to do.”

Later in the day, Acevedo said officers had rescued 4,100 people across the city and had more than 500 calls holding. The city’s fire chief, Samuel Peña, said his department had performed nearly 700 rescues.

“We’re still trying to get to folks,” Acevedo said. “Don’t give up on us. Seek the higher ground. We will get to you.”

By the end of the day, the number of people sheltering at the George R. Brown Convention Center swelled to 10,000. Its capacity is supposed to be 5,000. Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for cots and food for an additional 10,000 people, and officials are set to open another mega shelter at the Toyota Center, the downtown home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

“We are not turning anyone away,” Turner said.

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