Hurricane Harvey: Storm Slams Southern Texas as Residents Flee

Juan Cruz, 52, wheeled a cart out the door. He’d noticed that rain from the night before had caused his roof to leak, and he’d bought a tarp to cover it, hoping to stay dry if things got worse. Mr. Cruz, a mechanic, said he lived through Hurricane Mitch in Honduras and remembered the devastation. The storm killed his neighbors, flooded roads and tore up bridges, he said.


“Maybe it won’t be that bad,” he said. “It depends on God.” — JULIE TURKEWITZ in Houston

In a sturdy hotel, some find a haven.

Near the Corpus Christi airport, a Holiday Inn lobby was ablaze with lights and electricity on Saturday morning, and Chuck Berry tunes played in the background. The hotel was filled with local residents who had checked in on Friday, hoping that the old sturdy building would be a safe place to ride out the hurricane.

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Tony Buchanan and Myava Buchanan watching heavy rain and winds from Hurricane Harvey on Friday night from a hotel in Corpus Christi, Tex. They had been evacuated from Aransas Pass, Tex.

Credit
Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Ultimately, it was: the power flickered, but held on. The air-conditioning was humming. The blue-lit fountain in the lobby was still churning, mimicking the sound of the rain and wind outside. Trees and scattered debris filled the parking lot, but there was no major damage to the 256-room hotel.

Raju Bhagat, who owns the hotel and several others in the Corpus Christi area, stayed there overnight, joined by some of his employees and their families.

“This is a concrete building, so nothing is going to happen here,” Mr. Bhagat said. — MANNY FERNANDEZ in Corpus Christi

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Shelters were readied for evacuees.

As thousands of coastal residents were ordered to evacuate on Friday, and others chose to leave on their own, inland cities welcomed an influx of evacuees on Friday.

Gov. Greg Abbott said the state government was preparing to assist up to 41,000 evacuees. As many as 54 shelters would be open, officials said, with the potential for that number to grow.

Dallas opened a shelter for up to 500 people, and was ready to open two more if needed, officials there said.

“We are prepared to handle much more than we are right now,” said Rocky Vaz, director of the Dallas Office of Emergency Management.

In Austin, the American Red Cross scheduled an “urgent shelter volunteer training” session on Friday as officials prepared for more evacuees to arrive.

And in San Antonio, more than 150 people were being housed at a former elementary school as of Friday morning, according to the local news station KSAT-TV. Many of those seeking shelter had arrived by bus.

San Antonio was also bracing for a possible uptick in homeless pets, and was offering incentives for people to help clear space in local animal shelters.

On Friday afternoon, Mr. Abbott urged those in the storm’s path to flee to safety as soon as possible, warning that continued flooding after initial storm surges may close off escape routes. “You may find it is too late to be able to evacuate,” he said. — MITCH SMITH in Chicago and DAVE MONTGOMERY in Houston

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There were lines, but no price increase, at gas pumps.

In years past, major hurricanes caused immediate spikes in oil and gasoline prices, but as hard as Hurricane Harvey has hit the region’s refineries, the impact at the pump has so far been muted.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in Texas was $2.17 a gallon on Sunday morning, up only 2 cents from the beginning of the week, according to the AAA motor club, below the national average of $2.36 a gallon, also up 2 cents this week. The reason is a glut of oil and gasoline in storage, due to a frenzy of drilling in shale fields across the country, but especially in Texas, in recent years.

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Refineries in Houston shut down operations in preparation for the storm.

Credit
Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

However, it may take days before the full impact of the storm is known. Roughly a million barrels a day of refining capacity has been shut down on the Gulf Coast, and nearly a quarter of Gulf offshore production has been shut in. The Corpus Christi shipping terminals responsible for importing and exporting oil and refined products are also closed, and if the ship channel between Port Aransas and Aransas Pass is badly damaged it could take weeks for production to resume. — CLIFFORD KRAUSS in Houston

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Predictions are plentiful. Why are some wrong?

One of the terms thrown around when a hurricane is approaching land is models — what do the models say will happen? Hurricane computer models turn the complex factors that govern storms into forecasts. There are a number of leading hurricane models, and their forecasts often conflict. The discrepancies are evident in what are known as “spaghetti models”: maps that show the results of multiple models and multiple data runs in what can be a tangled mess.

Some models in the case of Hurricane Harvey show stunningly high levels of rainfall in coming days: a run on Friday from the European model forecast as much as 60 inches of rainfall. J. Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, warned against focusing on the most extreme examples presented by any single model or run.

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Department of Transportation crews installing the final portion of a surge wall leading to the Port Aransas ferry in Aransas Pass, Tex., on Friday, where a mandatory evacuation order was in place.

Credit
Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press

“That’s one isolated run,” he said. “What we tend to do as meteorologists is look at what’s known as an ensemble,” or a blending of the runs to filter out what could be outliers. Focusing on one line in the spaghetti plot is a bad idea without greater context; “that might be the worst model in the batch,” he said.

Dr. Shepherd said that models have, in general, gotten better in recent years at forecasting the track of a storm, but have not done as well at predicting a storm’s intensity.

In the case of Harvey, he said, “they’ve all been pretty consistent with the messaging,” despite varying forecasts of rainfall amounts. “This thing is going to stall out” and dump prodigious amounts of water over Houston and much of the coast. And Houston has historically been a place that is easy to flood and hard to drain. — JOHN SCHWARTZ

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The storm has rerouted some cruise ships.

Cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers and crew have been ordered to steer clear of the Port of Galveston. The port, which is less than 200 miles northeast of where the hurricane made landfall late Friday, was closed until the weather clears.

Carnival Cruise Line diverted three ships scheduled to arrive at the port this weekend. Rather than docking in Galveston on Saturday, Carnival Valor and Carnival Freedom were to stop in New Orleans to pick up fuel, water and food, then stay at sea until the weather clears. The 3,666 passengers on Freedom and the 3,628 passengers on Valor will be allowed to end their cruise and disembark in New Orleans, though Carnival is encouraging them to stay on board to avoid the difficulty of traveling back to Galveston on their own.

Carnival Breeze remained docked overnight in Cozumel, Mexico, and will set off for Texas in the afternoon, aiming to drop off its 4,660 passengers in Galveston on Sunday on schedule. — TIFFANY HSU in New York

The relationship between hurricanes and climate change is complex.

John Schwartz, who covers climate and the environment for The New York Times, writes that the relationship between hurricanes and climate change is not simple. Some things are known with growing certainty — rising sea levels makes storm surge worse. Others, not so much.

One of the still-unresolved questions, Mr. Schwartz writes, is whether climate change is affecting the number and the intensity of the storms. It could be making some stronger, and certainly wetter.

In the article, Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech and one of the authors of a sweeping climate science report, notes that scientists are not saying that hurricanes are necessarily caused by climate change, but are being affected by them.

“We care about a changing climate because it exacerbates the natural risks and hazards that we already face,” she said. “People always want to know is it climate change or is it not? The answer is it’s in between.” Read more »

Energy infrastructure bears close watching.

Few, if any, places in the world have as much energy infrastructure in harm’s way as the Gulf of Mexico coast. Houston, Corpus Christi, Texas City and other cities have vast refineries and natural gas terminals, which make and store dangerous chemicals. The Gulf itself is crisscrossed by oil and natural gas pipelines that connect production platforms to pipelines onshore. The potential for environmental catastrophe, or at least a crippling blow to the national economy, is always there when a hurricane hits.

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The region’s energy complex has dodged many bullets over the years, but damage assessments after a hurricane can take weeks.

The last major hurricane to hit Texas was Ike in 2008. It barreled into Galveston, only miles from Texas City and the Houston ship channel, and its high concentration of refineries and chemical plants. There was no disaster, but the ports of Freeport, Texas City, and Lake Charles, La. remained closed for days, and extensive flooding knocked out power to some refineries for more than a week.

More serious was the potential for trouble on the seas. Several drilling rigs were destroyed and two were found drifting in the water and needed to be secured by tugboat. Underwater pipelines were damaged, but it appears that leaks were limited.

There have been no reports of significant leaks from Harvey so far. The brunt of the storm hit the ship channel between Port Aransas and Aransas Pass, where oil tankers come and go to Corpus Christi, delivering oil imports and sending out crude and refined product exports. Any serious flooding could block commerce for days or weeks. — CLIFFORD KRAUSS in Houston

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