TEXAS: Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport canceled all commercial flights after flooding inundated access roads, further isolating Texas’ largest city.
The airport, a US hub for flights to Mexico, announced the cancellation on its website amid catastrophic flooding in the Houston area from Tropical Storm Harvey.
The city’s only other airport, Hobby International, had earlier stopped all flights “due to standing water in runways.”
Rising waters from Harvey – which crashed into the Texas Gulf Coast late Friday as a huge Category 4 hurricane – inundated roads throughout the area, affecting every major freeway in Houston and hamstringing efforts to move people to safety. At least three people have been killed so far.
“It’s crazy to see the roads you’re driving on every day just completely under water,” Houston resident John Travis told AFP.
Another city resident, Brit Dreger, said: “It doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere for a while.”
Overwhelmed emergency services warned residents to head for high ground or climb onto rooftops – not into attics – so they could be seen by rescue helicopters.
“It is bad and growing worse,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who added that the storm had inflicted billions of dollars in damage.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner dismissed the idea that evacuations should have been ordered sooner.
“You cannot put, in the city of Houston, 2.3 million people on the road. That is dangerous,” Turner told reporters.
“You issue an evacuation order and put everybody on the highway – you really are asking for a major calamity.”
– ‘Life and safety’ –
US President Donald Trump, who was spending the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat, said he would visit the Lone Star State as soon as he could “without causing disruption.”
“The focus must be on life and safety,” he said in a series of tweets about the disaster, his first major domestic challenge since taking office in January.
At least three people have died since Harvey made landfall, spawning tornadoes and lashing east and central Texas with torrential rains, but authorities said they could not yet confirm other possible fatalities.
In Houston, a woman drowned when she left a car which had stalled in high water, and another man was found dead in a flooded Wal-Mart parking lot in the Galveston area, officials confirmed.
Local officials said Saturday one person was killed when a house caught fire in the Rockport area, where Harvey made landfall late Friday.
“The breadth and intensity of this rainfall are beyond anything experienced before,” the National Weather Service said on Twitter.
Houston opened community centers to shelter people forced out of their homes, but the mayor appealed to residents to stay put and not call the 911 emergency line unless they faced a life-threatening situation.
“Do not get on the road,” Turner said.
“Even if there’s a lull today, don’t assume the storm is over.”
– Rain measured in feet –
The National Weather Service said about two feet (60 centimeters) of rain fell in Houston and nearby Galveston in a 24-hour period. Another 20 inches were expected.
Flooding was expected to worsen as Harvey, the most powerful storm to hit the United States mainland since 2005, lingers over the area.
“We are measuring it not in inches but in feet,” Abbott told CBS’s “Face the Nation” show.
Harvey ripped off roofs, flipped mobile homes and left hundreds of thousands of people in the dark on the Gulf Coast, home to some of the country’s most important oil refineries.
Tornado warnings were in effect in several parts of the area.
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport cancelled all commercial flights because all access roads were inundated. Hobby International, the city’s other airport, also stopped flights “due to standing water on runways.”
Abbott said National Guard troops were deployed overnight in Houston, using high-clearance vehicles to help with rescues in inundated areas of the city, the largest in Texas, and only behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago nationwide.
The Coast Guard has so far rescued at least 100 people from the air. Abbott said about 20 rescue helicopters were in use.
Boats also were being deployed, “but they can’t get here,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told reporters, appealing to residents to use their own vessels.
Emmett said another 1,500 rescues had been made so far.
Television images showed residents and their children floating through the inundated streets in kayaks.
Search and rescue operations were also underway in other devastated coastal communities including Rockport, Aransas Pass, Port Aransas and Corpus Christi, a city of some 325,000 people, Abbott said.
In Victoria, a town just north of Rockport, residents were shocked by the storm‘s intensity.
“If I knew it was going to be what it came to be, I might have left sooner,” local resident Robby Villa told AFP.
– ‘Landmark’ disaster –
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said there should be no illusions about the long-term impact.
“This disaster will be a landmark event,” FEMA director Brock Long told CNN, adding it would take at least two years to recover.
Coastal Texas is a fast-growing area, with some 1.5 million people moving into the region since 1999. It is also home to a large number of oil refineries and a number of major ports.
US authorities said about 22 percent of crude production in the Gulf of Mexico, accounting for more than 375,000 barrels a day, was shut down as of Friday.
ExxonMobil said Sunday it had closed its massive Baytown refining complex — the second-largest in the country.
But Abbott said the oil industry was well prepared.
“They hunkered down and were able to contain the facilities, and they have the ability to ratchet up back up there quickly,” he said on Fox News Sunday, predicting a “one- or two-week downturn.”