HOUSTON, Texas – Emergency crews raced to pull people from cars and homes as flood waters rose across southeast Texas on Sunday, rescuing more than 1,000 people in the Houston area as Tropical Storm Harvey pounded the region.
Harvey came ashore late Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years and has killed at least two people. The death toll is expected to rise as the storm lashes the U.S. state for days, triggering more floods, tidal surges, and tornadoes.
Harvey is forecast to arc slowly toward Houston through Wednesday. The center of the storm is still 125 miles (201.17 km) southwest of the fourth most populous city in the United States.
Emergency services told people to climb onto the roofs of their houses rather than into their attics to escape rapidly rising waters. Authorities warned the city’s more than two million residents not to leave flooded homes because many of the city’s roads were underwater.
The Twitter account of the sheriff of Harris County, which includes most of Houston, was inundated with rescue requests. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said his deputies responded to unconfirmed reports of a deceased woman and child inside a submerged vehicle on a highway near Houston.
Another resident described seeing a woman’s body floating in the streets during a flash flood in west Houston. The flood was several feet high, the resident told local TV station abc13.
Gonzalez’ stretched rescue teams were struggling to deal with requests for help.
“All agencies care but everyone simply operating at maximum capacity,” he tweeted at one point.
Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport canceled all inbound and outbound flights early on Sunday due to standing water on the runway. The airport said its arrivals area was flooded, and the National Weather Service issued a flash flood alert for the surrounding area.
“The flooding in Houston is dramatic,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in an interview on Fox News on Sunday.
“We are working to save lives and to keep as many people safe as possible.”
The second confirmed fatality from Tropical Storm Harvey came on Saturday evening when an elderly woman drowned attempting to drive through flooded streets in west Houston, said Sergeant Colin Howard of the Houston police department.
Houston police officials said officers were evacuating two flooded apartment complexes.
Authorities have urged residents to stay off the streets of cities across southeast Texas as rain fell at up to 5 inches (12.7 cm) per hour.
“There are a number of stranded people on our streets, calling 911, exhausting needed resources. You can help by staying off the streets,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Twitter.
On Friday night, a man died in a house fire in the town of Rockport, 30 miles (48 km) north of the city of Corpus Christi. Another dozen people in the area suffered injuries including broken bones, another official said.
Energy production in the heart of the country’s oil and gas industry was disrupted as several refineries and offshore platforms closed down, triggering a rise in gasoline prices.
Exxon Mobil said Sunday it was shutting down the second largest refinery in the United States at Baytown in Texas.
More than 45 percent of the country’s refining capacity is along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation’s crude oil is produced offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Abbott said Sunday he expected disruption to the energy industry to last one or two weeks.