HOUSTON, Tex. — Hundreds of water rescues were underway in Houston early Sunday, officials said, as torrential rain from deadly Hurricane Harvey caused “catastrophic flooding” in the city and across southeast Texas, the National Hurricane Center said.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” said Michael Palmer, lead meteorologist at the Weather Channel.
As responders rushed to save people from flooded homes and stranded cars, Houston city officials said emergency services were “at capacity” and warned residents to “shelter in place” and not to call 911 unless they were in “imminent danger.”
The south side of the city was being deluged by up to six inches of rain every hour overnight, the Office of Emergency Management said.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it was conducting urban search and rescue operations in the greater Houston area and that its local command center had received more than 300 requests.
“Currently there are five MH-65 Dolphin Helicopters conducting rescues,” the statement said.
The flooding came as emergency services along the Gulf Coast scrambled to reach those in need of assistance, and many in the path of the storm began to assess the devastation. The full extent of the damage was not yet clear and heavy rain and fierce winds have kept emergency crews from reaching the hardest-hit places.
It came as Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told NBC News’ “Meet The Press” Sunday morning that the recovery effort would take “years.”
Long told host Chuck Todd that President Donald Trump was “extremely concerned” about the situation on the ground.
“He’s given me all the authorities to amass the resources from the federal government down through our state and local partners,” he said adding, “right now we have nearly 5,000 staff that we have coordinated across the federal government within the states of Texas and Louisiana.”
At least two people have died since Harvey made landfall late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane. One was found dead in a vehicle in Houston on Saturday night in a possible drowning amid flooding in the city, a Houston fire department spokesperson said. Another died in a house fire in Aransas County that rescuers could not reach because of flooding.
Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm as of 2 p.m. ET Saturday.