Snapshot from drone footage over Houston. (see video after report).
Houston, Aug. 29 (Reuters): US President Donald Trump headed to Texas on Tuesday to survey the response to devastating Tropical Storm Harvey, the first natural disaster of his White House tenure, as officials in Houston struggled to manage the massive floodwaters.
The slow-moving storm has brought catastrophic flooding to Texas, killed at least nine people, led to mass evacuations and paralyzed Houston, the fourth most-populous US city. Some 30,000 people were expected to seek emergency shelter as the flooding entered its fourth day.
Officials in Harris County, where Houston is located, said reservoirs built to handle drainage water were beginning to overflow on Tuesday. They released water to alleviate pressure on two dams, a move that would add to flooding along the Buffalo Bayou waterway that runs through the area.
“This is something we've never seen before,” said Jeff Linder, a meteorologist with Harris County's flood control district. “We have uncertainty in how the water is going to react,” when releases from the reservoirs hit overflowing drainage.
Harvey, the most powerful hurricane to strike Texas in more than 50 years, has roiled energy markets and wrought damage estimated to be in the billions of dollars, with rebuilding likely to last beyond Trump's current four-year term in office.
While much of the damage in Houston has been rain-related, the storm's winds picked up overnight, bending street signs and tearing at metal fences in the downtown.
Much of the Houston metropolitan area, where 6.8 million people live, remained underwater on Tuesday, with some parts of the region recording more than 100cm of rain since the storm's arrival.
Before Harvey, the last Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Texas was Carla in 1961.
The storm center was in the Gulf of Mexico about 185km southeast of Houston on Monday morning. It was likely to remain just off the coast of Texas through Tuesday night before moving inland over the northwestern Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
Harvey was expected to produce another 18-33cm of rain through Thursday over parts of the upper Texas coast into southwestern Louisiana, the National Weather Service said.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to half of U.S. refining capacity. The reduction in supply led gasoline futures to hit their highest level in two years this week as Harvey knocked out about 13 percent of total US refining capacity, based on company reports and Reuters estimates.
The floods could destroy as much as $20 billion in insured property, making the storm one of the costliest in history for US insurers, according to Wall Street analysts.