LAKE CHARLES, La./HOUSTON (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Harvey slogged across southeastern Texas and into Louisiana on Wednesday, sending more people fleeing for shelter after hitting the U.S. energy hub of Houston with record rains and flooding that drove tens of thousands from their homes.
The slow-moving storm has killed at least 22 people and sent more than 32,000 to shelters since coming ashore on Friday near Corpus Christi, Texas, as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years. On Wednesday it went on to swamp a stretch of coast from Port Arthur, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Busloads of people fleeing floodwaters around Port Arthur arrived in Lake Charles, Louisiana, joining local residents who had already packed into shelters to escape waterlogged homes.
Harvey was forecast to drop another 3 to 6 inches (7.5-15 cm) of rain on Wednesday, with a storm surge of up to 4 feet (1.2 m) along the western part of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. The floods shut the nation’s largest oil refinery in Port Arthur in the latest hit to U.S. energy infrastructure that has sent gasoline prices climbing.
Moody’s Analytics is estimating the economic cost from Harvey for southeast Texas at $51 billion to $75 billion, ranking it among the costliest storms in U.S. history.
“The worst is not yet over for southeast Texas as far as the rain is concerned,” Governor Greg Abbott said, referring to the area that includes Beaumont and Port Arthur.
He warned residents of the storm-hit areas to expect floodwaters to linger for up to a week.
National Guard troops have rescued more than 8,500 people since the storm began, Abbott said.
‘WATER UP TO HERE’
Floodwaters inundated part of Port Arthur’s Bob Bowers Civic Center, forcing the residents who had sought shelter there into the raised seating stands, according to photos posted to social media.
About 300 people who had fled their homes around Lake Charles packed into a civic centre that served as an emergency shelter.
The shelter was bracing for about 1,500 people rescued from floods by the U.S. Coast Guard, said Angela Jouett, who is running the shelter. A line of buses arrived in the early afternoon and began to unload people who had fled the storm.
Among them were Misty Harrison, 43, and her 18-year-old son Skylar Lorenz, who fled the Orange Inn & Suites in Orange, Texas, this morning as water flooded in.
“Water up to here,” Harrison said, pointing to her collarbone. Harrison and Lorenz, who had flagged down a rescue boat. They carried damp pillow cases full of clothing.
Harvey made landfall for a third time early on Wednesday, and was about 35 miles (56 km) north-northwest of Lake Charles, near the Texas border at 2 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) with winds up to 40 miles per hour (65 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The winds were expected to drop below tropical storm force by Wednesday night, the Miami-based centre added.
Clear skies in Houston on Wednesday brought relief to the fourth-largest U.S. city after five days of catastrophic downpours, although people leaving shelters faced new anxieties about the condition of the homes they had fled.
Houston airports were to begin limited operations on Wednesday afternoon, said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Disruptions lingered as even some of the people helping evacuees in Houston said they had lost their homes.
Joseph McKenney, 37, a security guard at the downtown Toyota Center shelter said he had just heard from his wife for the first time in days. She and his children are safe but their rental house is covered in water to the roof, and there is no way to get to it.
“I want to go home, but I ain’t got no home to go to,” McKenney said.
The 22 people killed by the storm included two grandparents and their four grandchildren, who died in a van, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.
As of Wednesday morning, Texas officials said close to 49,000 homes had suffered flood damage, with more than 1,000 destroyed. Some 195,000 people have begun the process of seeking federal help, FEMA said.
Texas is investigating hundreds of complaints of price gouging involving loaves of bread offered for $15, fuel for $100 a gallon and hotels raising room rates, state officials said.
U.S. President Donald Trump visited the state on Tuesday to survey damage from the first major natural disaster of his term.
“After witnessing first hand the horror & devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas!” Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday.
The storm made it less likely that Trump would act on his threat to shut the federal government over funding for a border wall, Goldman Sachs economists said on Wednesday. They now estimate the probability of a shutdown at 35 percent, down from 50 percent previously.
The nation’s largest refinery, Valero Energy Corp’s (VLO.N) 335,000 barrel-per-day facility in Port Arthur was shut, said sources familiar with plant operations.
The storm has shut about one-quarter of U.S. fuel production, sparking concerns about gasoline supply. The national average gasoline price rose to $2.404 a gallon, up six cents from a week ago, with higher spikes in Texas.
Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) has sent staff back to the Perdido oil and gas platform in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico to begin to restart production.
Harvey has drawn comparisons with Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans 12 years ago, killing more than 1,800 people and causing some $108 billion in damage.
(Graphic - storms in the North Atlantic - tmsnrt.rs/2wwerEh)
Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis, Mica Rosenberg, Marianna Parraga, Gary McWilliams, Ernest Scheyder, Erwin Seba, Ruthy Munoz, Peter Henderson and Andy Sullivan in Houston, David Gaffen in New York, Jon Herskovitz in Austin and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown