Hurricane-turned-Tropical Storm Harvey whipped into Port Arthur, Texas, about 90 miles east of Houston, on Tuesday, Aug. 29, with historic flooding that the mayor says has put the entire city under water.
Nearly 30 inches of rain have fallen in the last two days, according to National Weather Service historical data, and several thousand residents have been displaced as their homes have been inundated with water.
Help has also flooded into the seaport city of roughly 54,000, but not without some hiccups.
On Wednesday, the mayor said that rescue operations were continuing, albeit slowly, after Jefferson County emergency officials shut them down over Tuesday night.
Sheriff Zena Stephens told KFDM/Fox 4 that the county resources were not able to get to Port Arthur because of the flooding, and that there weren’t enough people to answer 911 calls.
“Our whole city is underwater right now but we are coming!” Mayor Derrick Freeman wrote on Facebook. “If you called, we are coming.”
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office quashed rumors that Port Arthur emergency service agencies weren’t accepting help from citizens with boats, saying, “Their Emergency responders are working along with citizen rescue crews to pull people out of homes and get them to safety. They have hundreds of calls stacked up.”
The mayor estimated that as of Wednesday afternoon, there were around 150 boats out on the floodwaters rescuing people. He said around 100 of those are part of the Cajun Navy, a citizen group that started up during Hurricane Katrina to help rescue people stranded in their homes.
The National Weather Service has issued flash flood warnings for parts of Southeast Texas, including Port Arthur, that will be in effect through Thursday evening.
Mayor Freeman told people to move to higher ground, avoid driving on flooded roadways, and to stay out of attics to avoid getting trapped.
He said early Wednesday that rescuers were fighting several fires, at least one of which he hinted may have been started by a lightning strike.
“The lightning has slowed up some rescues, but they have NOT stopped,” he wrote on Facebook.
He added that dump trucks were being deployed to rescue people as hundreds of comments on the city’s and mayor’s Facebook pages show the volume of calls for assistance.
“My sister is in dire need 5 adults, a baby, and 5 pets home is completely under water. They have managed to move to their travel trailer as it’s providing temporary release but need help,” wrote Facebook user Sandra Zamarripa.
“I have a 102 year old uncle Deacon Edgar Wise … he is alone please please please send help,” wrote Facebook user Felicia Skipper.
Two senior care facilities in Port Arthur flooded overnight, trapping residents in the buildings with rescuers unable to reach them, Weather.com reported.
“We will evacuate if rescue teams can make it to the buildings. We are notifying families this morning,” the senior centers said in a statement, according to Weather.com.
The latest Harvey notice on the city’s website recommends residents take shelter in the Bob Bowers Civic Center.
However KFDM/Fox 4 published footage of the center inundated with over a foot of water.
Mayor Freeman said in a Facebook video Wednesday afternoon that they are moving people to the Carl Parker Multipurpose Center and would soon open another location to shelter an estimated 3,000 people.
As for infrastructure, Motiva’s oil refinery in Port Arthur, the largest crude oil refinery in the United States, shut down Tuesday night due to flooding, sources told Reuters.
The worst of the storm may be over for the area however. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service report a 30 percent or less chance of showers and thunderstorms through Sunday.