Tuesday 17 July 2018

In Pictures: 'I've never seen anything like it' - Irishman describes devastation left in Hurricane Harvey's wake

Jesus Rodriguez rescues Gloria Garcia after rain from Hurricane Harvey flooded Pearland, in the outskirts of Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Jesus Rodriguez rescues Gloria Garcia after rain from Hurricane Harvey flooded Pearland, in the outskirts of Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
People are rescued from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey on an air boat in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A dead dog lies out of the passenger window of an overturned pickup truck after Hurricane Harvey landed in the Coast Bend area in Port Aransas, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. Harvey came ashore Friday along the Texas Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds, the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade. (Gabe Hernandez/Corpus Christi Caller-Times via AP)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Hurricane Harvey has deluged America's fourth-largest city with devastating floods, with rising water forcing thousands on to rooftops and overwhelming rescuers receiving constant calls for help.

The incessant rain covered much of Houston, Texas, in dirty grey-green water and turned streets into rivers navigable only by boat.

Sam Speights tries to hold back tears while holding his dogs and surveying the damage to his home in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Rockport, Texas. Speights tried to stay in his home during the storm but had to move to other shelter after he lost his roof and back wall. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Sam Speights tries to hold back tears while holding his dogs and surveying the damage to his home in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Rockport, Texas. Speights tried to stay in his home during the storm but had to move to other shelter after he lost his roof and back wall. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Evacuees are airlifted in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter after flooding due to Hurricane Harvey inundated neighborhoods in Houston, Texas, August 27, 2017. Picture taken August 27, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Johanna Strickland/Handout via REUTERS
Evacuees leave a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter after being rescued from flooding due to Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, August 27, 2017. Picture taken August 27, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Johanna Strickland/Handout via REUTERS.
Evacuees are airlifted in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter after flooding due to Hurricane Harvey inundated neighborhoods in Houston, Texas, August 27, 2017. Picture taken August 27, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Johanna Strickland/Handout via REUTERS.
Evacuees are airlifted in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter after flooding due to Hurricane Harvey inundated neighborhoods in Houston, Texas, August 27, 2017. Picture taken August 27, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Johanna Strickland/Handout via REUTERS.
Larry Keller and his wife Lisa Keller exit a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter that rescued them from their home after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Volunteers load people into a collector's vintage military truck to evacuate them from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in Dickinson, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People are rescued by airboat as they evacuate from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People wait outside a funeral home to evacuate from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People walk through water to a staging area to evacuate from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson
People are evacuated from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in a collector's vintage military truck belonging to a volunteer in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson
Area residents use a kayak to rescue motorists stranded on Interstate highway 45 which is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson
Area residents use a kayak to rescue motorists stranded on Interstate highway 45 which is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson
An eighteen wheel tractor trailer is stranded on Interstate highway 45 which is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson
Jesus Rodriguez rescues Gloria Garcia after rain from Hurricane Harvey flooded Pearland, in the outskirts of Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
People are rescued from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey on an air boat in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Texas National Guard soldiers aid residents in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 27, 2017 Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD/Texas Military Department/Handout via REUTERS
A dead dog lies out of the passenger window of an overturned pickup truck after Hurricane Harvey landed in the Coast Bend area in Port Aransas, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. Harvey came ashore Friday along the Texas Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds, the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade. (Gabe Hernandez/Corpus Christi Caller-Times via AP)
Jennifer Bryant looks over the debris from her family business destroyed by Hurricane Harvey Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Katy, Texas. Harvey rolled over the Texas Gulf Coast on Saturday, smashing homes and businesses and lashing the shore with wind and rain so intense that drivers were forced off the road because they could not see in front of them. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Lisa Rehr holds her four-year old son Maximus, after they lost their home to Hurricane Harvey, as they await to be evacuated with their belongings from Rockport, Texas, U.S. August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
This enhanced satellite image made available by the NOAA GOES Project shows Harvey, upper left, over Texas on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. The remnants of the hurricane spun deeper into Texas and unloaded extraordinary amounts of rain. (NASA/NOAA via AP)
The end wall of the Fairfield Inn is seen partially missing after Hurricane Harvey struck in Rockport, Texas, August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Chris Bohill, originally from Co Down, has been living in Houston for 12 years.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, he said the city has been left "absolutely devastated".

Texas National Guard soldiers aid residents in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 27, 2017 Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD/Texas Military Department/Handout via REUTERS
Texas National Guard soldiers aid residents in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 27, 2017 Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD/Texas Military Department/Handout via REUTERS

"I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It’s just sheer devastation, water everywhere..where I lived used to have a park and a baseball field and now it’s just like an ocean," he said.

"We are very, very lucky but there are parts of the city that are absolutely devastated. We've had the coastguard pulling people out of houses...I've never seen anything like it in my life and I've been here 12 years."

In a rescue effort that recalled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, helicopters landed near flooded freeways, airboats buzzed across submerged neighbourhoods and high-water vehicles ploughed through waterlogged junctions.

Some people managed with kayaks or canoes - or swam.

Jennifer Bryant looks over the debris from her family business destroyed by Hurricane Harvey Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Katy, Texas. Harvey rolled over the Texas Gulf Coast on Saturday, smashing homes and businesses and lashing the shore with wind and rain so intense that drivers were forced off the road because they could not see in front of them. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Jennifer Bryant looks over the debris from her family business destroyed by Hurricane Harvey Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Katy, Texas. Harvey rolled over the Texas Gulf Coast on Saturday, smashing homes and businesses and lashing the shore with wind and rain so intense that drivers were forced off the road because they could not see in front of them. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Volunteers joined emergency teams to pull people from their homes or from the water, which was high enough in places to gush into second floors.

The flooding from Harvey, which made landfall late on Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and has lingered dropping heavy rain as a tropical storm, was so widespread that authorities had trouble pinpointing the worst areas.

They urged people to get on top of their houses to avoid becoming trapped in attics and to wave sheets or towels to draw attention to their location.

People living around the Addicks and Barker reservoirs designed to help prevent flooding in central Houston, were warned that a controlled release from both reservoirs would cause additional street flooding and could spill into homes.

Rising water levels and continuing rain was putting pressure on the dams that could cause a failure without the release.

Judging from national disaster declarations, the storm has so far affected about a quarter of the Texas population, or 6.8 million people in 18 counties, and was blamed for at least two deaths.

As the water rose, the National Weather Service issued another ominous forecast, saying before the storm is gone, some parts of Houston and its suburbs could get as much as 50ins of rain - the highest amount recorded in Texas.

Some areas have already received about half that amount.

Since Thursday, South Houston recorded nearly 25ins and the suburbs of Santa Fe and Dayton had 27ins.

"The breadth and intensity of this rainfall is beyond anything experienced before," the National Weather Service said.

Average rainfall totals will end up around 40ins for Houston, weather service meteorologist Patrick Burke said.

Brock Long, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, predicted that the aftermath of the storm would need Fema's involvement for years.

"This disaster's going to be a landmark event," he said.

Rescuers had to give top priority to life-and-death situations, leaving many affected families to fend for themselves. And several hospitals in the Houston area were evacuated due to the rising waters.

It was not clear how many people were plucked from the floodwaters. Up to 1,200 people had to be rescued in Galveston County alone, said county judge Mark Henry.

Houston's George R Brown Convention Centre was quickly opened as a shelter. It was used as a shelter for Katrina refugees in 2005.

Gillis Leho, who arrived there soaking wet, said she awoke to find her downstairs flooded. She tried to move some belongings upstairs, then grabbed her grandchildren.

"When they told us the current was getting high, we had to bust a window to get out," she said.

Some people used inflatable beach toys, rubber rafts and even air mattresses to get through the water to safety. Others waded while carrying rubbish bags stuffed with their belongings and small animals in picnic coolers.

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said authorities had received more than 2,000 calls for help, with more coming in.

He urged drivers to stay off roads to avoid adding to the number of those stranded.

"I don't need to tell anyone this is a very, very serious and unprecedented storm," he said.

"We have several hundred structural flooding reports. We expect that number to rise pretty dramatically."

The deteriorating situation was bound to provoke questions about the conflicting advice given by the governor and Houston leaders before the hurricane.

Governor Greg Abbott urged people to flee from Harvey's path, but the mayor issued no evacuation orders and told everyone to stay home.

The governor refused to point fingers on Sunday.

"Now is not the time to second-guess the decisions that were made," Mr Abbott, a Republican, said.

"What's important is that everybody work together to ensure that we are going to, first, save lives and, second, help people across the state rebuild."

Mr Turner, a Democrat, defended his decision, saying there was no way to know which parts of the city were most vulnerable.

"If you think the situation right now is bad, and you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare," he said, citing the risks of sending the city's 2.3 million inhabitants on to the highways at the same time.

The US Coast Guard sent five helicopters and asked for additional aircraft from New Orleans.

The White House said US president Donald Trump would visit Texas on Tuesday.

The rescues unfolded a day after Harvey settled over the Texas coastline.

The system weakened on Saturday to a tropical storm and on Sunday, it was virtually stationary about 25 miles north west of Victoria, Texas, with maximum sustained winds of about 40mph the hurricane centre said.

Harvey was the fiercest hurricane to hit the US in 13 years and the strongest to strike Texas since 1961's Hurricane Carla, the most powerful Texas hurricane on record.

With additional reporting from the Press Association

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