HOUSTON—Crews overwhelmed by thousands of rescue calls during one of the heaviest downpours in U.S. history have had little time to search for other potential victims.
But officials acknowledge the grim reality that fatalities linked to “Harvey” could soar once the devastating floodwaters recede from one of America's most sprawling metropolitan centres.
More than three days after the storm ravaged the Texas coastline as a Category 4 hurricane, authorities had confirmed only three deaths, including a woman killed yesterday when heavy rains dislodged a large oak tree onto her trailer home in the small town of Porter.
But unconfirmed reports of others missing or presumed dead were growing.
“We know in these kind of events that, sadly, the death toll goes up historically,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told The Associated Press.
“I'm really worried about how many bodies we're going to find.”
One Houston woman said yesterday that she presumes six members of a family, including four of her grandchildren, died after their van sank into Greens Bayou in East Houston, although Houston emergency officials couldn't confirm the deaths.
Virginia Saldivar told The Associated Press her brother-in-law was driving the van Sunday when a strong current took the vehicle over a bridge and into the bayou.
The driver was able to get out and urged the children to escape through the back door, Saldivar said, but they could not.
“I'm just hoping we find the bodies,” Saldivar said.
And a spokeswoman for a Houston hotel said one of its employees disappeared while helping about 100 guests and workers evacuate the building amid rising floodwaters.
The disaster is unfolding on an epic scale, with the nation's fourth-largest city mostly paralyzed by the storm that has parked itself over the Gulf Coast.
With nearly two more feet (61 cm) of rain expected on top of the 30-plus inches (76 cm) in some places, authorities worried the worst might be yet to come.
Early today, Harvey's relentless downpour continued to drench Houston and the surrounding area.
Rain fell at a pace of about half-an-inch (one cm) per hour over Harris County—home to Houston—and up to two inches (five cm) per hour to the east.
The storm is generating an amount of rain that normally would be seen only once in more than 1,000 years, said Edmond Russo, a deputy district engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was concerned that floodwater would spill around a pair of 70-year-old reservoir dams that protect downtown Houston.
U.S. President Donald Trump was expected in Corpus Christi, Tex. and Austin today for briefings on the first major natural disaster of his administration, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump.
Vice-President Mike Pence said in an interview with News Radio 1360 KKTX in Corpus Christi that he and his wife, Karen, will visit southeast Texas later this week.
The impact of Harvey also is already being felt in Lake Charles, in southwestern Louisiana, where emergency crews have been rescuing residents from their flooded homes after steady overnight rainfall.
Forecasters expect the storm to creep eastward as far as Mississippi by Thursday, meaning New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina unleashed its full might in 2005, is in Harvey's path.
Foreboding images of Harvey were lighting up weather radar screens early today—the 12th anniversary of the day Katrina made landfall in Plaquemines Parish.
Rescuers, meanwhile, continued plucking people from inundated Houston neighbourhoods.
Mayor Sylvester Turner put the number by police at more than 3,000.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it also had rescued more than 3,000 by boat and air, and was taking more than 1,000 calls per hour.
Chris Thorn was among the many volunteers still helping with the mass evacuation that began Sunday.
He drove with a buddy from the Dallas area with their flat-bottom hunting boat to pull strangers out of the water.
“I couldn't sit at home and watch it on TV and do nothing since I have a boat and all the tools to help,” he noted.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered for the low-lying Houston suburb of Dickinson, home to 20,000.
Police cited the city's fragile infrastructure in the floods, limited working utilities, and concern about the weather forecast.