Texas Governor Greg Abbott says his top priority is to "protect human life" as Tropical Storm Harvey targets the Houston area with what Abbott calls "incredibly heavy" ongoing rain. During a Sunday afternoon news conference, Abbott warned all residents to stay off the roads, saying they would be taking their lives into their own hands if they attempt to drive.
He added that anyone who has not evacuated the area yet should seek refuge in a location as high as possible. Harvey is forecast to bring "historic rainfall if not an all-time record" to a geographical triangle of southeast Texas, including Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States. Vice Admiral Karl Schultz of the U.S. Coast Guard says wind is not the biggest danger in a tropical storm - it's the water.
Three-thousand National and State Guard members are on duty. Six-hundred boats have been deployed to help with rescues, along with numerous aircraft. Abbott said he is deeply grateful to his fellow Americans for their support and resources, particularly what he calls a "very effective federal partner" that has granted every request for aid. Nineteen Texas counties have been declared federal disaster areas and Abbott says he anticipates more.
President Donald Trump held a Cabinet meeting Sunday on the disaster. The White House says the president expects all federal agencies to stay fully committed to helping the governors of Texas and neighboring Louisiana to save lives. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said that FEMA is going to be in the storm-damaged areas "for years," calling this disaster a "landmark event."
Trump is scheduled to visit Texas on Tuesday.
Harvey slammed into southeast Texas as a fierce Category 4 hurricane, but has weakened to a tropical storm. Harvey is moving across the state at a scant 4 kilometers per hour, and is forecast to drift closer to the Gulf of Mexico Monday. The storm is not expected to weaken over the next two days. Harvey's snail-like pace close to the warm waters of the Gulf is a factor in the storm dumping such an incredible amount of moisture on Houston and other Texas towns.
At least two deaths have been reported so far.
"People are concerned about what is happening to them – to their neighbors, they’re concerned about their homes," she added, noting that many people were stuck where they work and trying to keep in touch with their families at home.
"I was scared...too much. My family tried to call me...I tell them I’m on the freeway I don’t know how long I’m going to stay," Ricardo Martinez, who was driving hotel guests to the Houston airport on Sunday, told VOA. "I recommend to people – stay home with your family."
Several Houston-area oil refineries shut down on Sunday as the storm continued. The closures take roughly 12 percent of U.S. fuel-making capacity offline, compounding concerns about fuel shortages in coming days. Harvey is the strongest hurricane to hit the United States mainland in more than a decade. Celia Mendoza contributed to this report.