FEMA chief: 450,000 could seek disaster assistance from Hurricane Harvey

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HOUSTON —  Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said Monday that he expects Hurricane Harvey will drive about 30,000 people into shelters and 450,000 people will seek some sort of disaster assistance.

However, he warned, it is a “dynamic” situation and “every number we put out right now is going to change in 30 minutes.”

Around 13 million people are under flood watches and warnings stretching from Corpus Christi, Texas, to New Orleans as the remnants of Hurricane Harvey menace the already drenched Texas and Louisiana.

“Catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” continues in southeastern Texas, where bands of storm have been repeatedly pummeling the same areas.

Over the next few days, tropical storm Harvey is forecast to head back into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will pick up moisture before moving back over Galveston, Texas, and into Houston again, meaning at least four more days of rain.

The National Weather Service warns that flash flood emergencies are in effect for some areas and the rain — which can be measured by feet instead of inches — is not letting up.

Up to 25 inches of rain could fall through Friday over the upper Texas coast, while “isolated storm totals may reach 50 inches over the upper Texas coast, including the Houston Galveston metropolitan area,” according to the weather service.

Over two days, Houston got 25 inches of rain — more than half of its annual rainfall. That number could double this week.

Flooding continued in and around Houston on Sunday night as citizens with boats assisted authorities in search and rescue efforts on roads that have turned into rivers.

Officials say they have conducted more than 250 water rescues and rescued more than 1,000 people. The U.S. Coast Guard said 19 helicopters are also involved in relief efforts.

As of Sunday evening, between 800 and 1,200 people had been rescued from their homes in Galveston County, county judge Mark Henry said.

An additional 1,000 National Guard members are being called in to help flood victims in Houston, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced.

The governor is expected to tour the Texas Coastal Bend region Monday with Sen. John Cornyn.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began the controlled release of water from the Addicks and Barker Dams in Galveston early Monday after water levels began rising quickly, according to Harris County flood control district meteorologist Jeff Linder.

This is ahead of schedule because the water levels at the dam began to rise quickly, Linder said. The engineers are expecting spillways and roads in the area to be impacted, according to a release from the agency.

“Residents adjacent to the reservoirs need to be vigilant because the water in the reservoirs is rising rapidly,” said Col. Lars Zetterstrom, Galveston district commander. “Both reservoirs are rising more than half a foot per hour.”

The city of Conroe said record levels of water are also being released from Lake Conroe Dam and flooding is imminent in some areas.

“The city of Conroe will be evacuating McDade Estates. Other neighborhoods will be evacuated by the county,” it said.

Public safety officials have been overwhelmed by the number of calls and are currently prioritizing calls as they come in.

The rainfall threatens to exacerbate an already dangerous situation, as Harvey’s rains have left many east Texas rivers and bayous swollen to their banks or beyond.

“The breadth and intensity of this rainfall are beyond anything experienced before,” the National Weather Service said. “Catastrophic flooding is now underway and expected to continue for days.”

In Fort Bend County, a voluntary evacuation order was made mandatory for areas along the Brazos River, with the NWS predicting river levels of 56.1 feet — nearly two feet above the record during flooding last year.

“Harvey continues to batter Fort Bend County,” county judge Robert Hebert said. “Residents who flooded last year know how serious this situation is.”

Fort Bend had worked with the Red Cross to establish shelters for residents, Herbert said.

The storm killed two people, authorities said, and the death toll will likely rise. A woman who drove her vehicle into high water in Houston was killed, and fire killed a man in Rockport.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned that some 911 calls are going unanswered as operators “give preference to life-threatening calls.”

The 911 dispatchers in the nation’s fourth-most populous city have received 2,000 requests for rescue, Turner said.

Houston fire chief Samuel Pena said his department had responded to 2,500 calls and have about 1,000 more waiting to be serviced.

People are also taking to social media to announce their locations and ask for help.

Portions of major highways, including interstates 10, 45 and 610, were submerged and unnavigable.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said he understands the compulsion to find safer ground, but urged people to think twice before venturing out into high water and to consider unforeseen dangers, such as manhole covers being lifted from their holes.