Tens of thousands of Texans flee Harvey as hurricane slams Gulf Coast

The most powerful storm to hit the United States in more than a decade is messing with the Lone Star State.

Ramon Lopez boards up windows of a business in Galveston, Texas as Hurricane Harvey intensifies in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. Harvey is forecast to be a major hurricane when it makes landfall along the middle Texas coastline. CREDIT: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Ramon Lopez boards up windows of a business in Galveston, Texas as Hurricane Harvey intensifies in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. Harvey is forecast to be a major hurricane when it makes landfall along the middle Texas coastline. CREDIT: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast late Friday evening, devastating the Gulf Coast and forcing tens of thousands of residents to trek further inland in search of safety.

Categorized as a Category 4 hurricane when it came ashore, Harvey’s 130 mile per hour winds make it the most powerful storm to hit the United States in over a decade. That milestone is even more striking for hurricane and flood-prone Texas, which hasn’t seen a storm like Harvey in 47 years. While the hurricane has now been downgraded to Category 1, its brutal force is still being felt—Harvey was ramming South Texas with 75 mile per hour winds and an abundance of rain as of Saturday morning.

Texans along the Gulf Coast took to social media Saturday to share images of the devastation, which hit the cities of Rockport and Corpus Christi especially hard:

Damage assessment on Saturday indicated that coastal communities in Harvey’s path were hit hard by the storm. Numerous buildings were leveled in Rockport, where the roof of the town’s high school partially caved in. Residents of a home for seniors were also reportedly taken for treatment after their roof collapsed.


Property damage isn’t the only danger posed by Harvey’s high winds and floods. Emergency crews have been unable to reach numerous locations due to the storm’s force. While residents were told to leave by Governor Greg Abbott (R), who declared a state of emergency for 30 Texas counties on Wednesday in advance of the storm, the sheer size of many communities being hit has sparked concern. Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city, is among the areas potentially in Harvey’s path, as are several other densely-populated areas. Many residents in the storm’s path also chose not to evacuate, something government officials criticized in advance of the storm. Rockport Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios made headlines when he bluntly told those remaining in the town—about 40 percent of the community as of Friday—to prepare for the worst.

“Those that are going to stay — it’s unfortunate — but they should make some type of preparation to mark their arm with a Sharpie Pen,” said Rios. “Put their social security number on it, and their name.”

“We can’t emphasize enough that this is a life-threatening storm,” he added. “All the advice we can give is get out now.”

One group of Texans are particularly precarious—undocumented immigrants. Texas has the second-largest concentration of residents without paperwork in the country, and many found themselves making hard choices in advance of Harvey’s arrival. In a statement issued Friday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agencies said saving lives would take precedent over enforcing immigration law, but that checkpoints would still be in place. That placed many Texans in an impossible position—fleeing to safety or prioritizing remaining in the country. With many undocumented Texans residing in both the Rio Grande Valley and various affordable areas in the state’s wider southeastern region, where flooding is likely, human rights advocates have expressed concern over the situation.

“As people seek refuge from hurricane Harvey, they are likely to have to go north or west of Texas and would have to go through a checkpoint,” said Lorella Praeli, American Civil Liberties Union director of immigration policy and campaigns. “By keeping checkpoints open, the Border Patrol is putting undocumented people and mixed-status families at risk out of fear of deportations.”


“This is a disgusting move from the Border Patrol that breaks with past practices,” she added. “The Border Patrol should never keep checkpoints open during any natural disasters in the United States. Everyone, no matter the color of their skin or background, is worth saving.”

While no deaths were immediately confirmed as the storm headed inland, meteorologists and other weather experts have expressed concern that Harvey’s long-term damage could be much more severe. Warming waters in the Gulf of Mexico are around five degrees higher than usual, something that helps to fuel hurricanes. Rising temperatures also allow air to hold more water, which has terrifying implications for Texas—the storm is likely to hover over the state for up to three days, which could pose horrifying risks to cities in particular. An investigation published in March by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune found that Houston was completely unprepared for a major hurricane like Harvey, and that the oil and chemicals stored within the city were particularly worrying in the event of a disaster.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump came under fire for his slow response to Harvey. While Abbott asked Trump to issue a federal disaster declaration for Texas earlier on Friday, the president took hours to respond, focusing instead on other issues, like pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio and officially barring transgender recruits from joining the military. When asked by a reporter on Friday if he had anything to say to Texans, Trump merely wished the state’s residents luck.

“Good luck to everybody,” Trump said. “They’re going to be safe. Good luck to everybody. Good luck.”

The president eventually issued a disaster declaration later Friday night.