Hurricane Harvey weakens - NHC

The most powerful hurricane to hit the US state of Texas in more than 50 years moved slowly inland on Saturday.

A car lies submerged after Hurricane Harvey hit Corpus Christi, Texas on 26 August 2017. Picture: AFP.

HOUSTON - Hurricane Harvey weakened to a category 1 hurricane as it moved inland over Texas on Saturday and would likely become a tropical storm later, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Harvey was the strongest storm in more than 50 years to hit Texas when it came ashore late Friday as a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. That is the second most powerful category of storm measured by the speed of sustained winds.

As dawn breaks in the southern United States, a clearer picture will emerge of the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey. Texas utility companies said nearly a quarter of a million customers were without power.

Harvey is the strongest storm to hit Texas, the center of the US oil and gas industry, since 1961, and residents and emergency respondents were still sheltering early Saturday.

The town of Rockport, 48km north of the city of Corpus Christ, appeared to be one of the hardest hit. Ahead of the storm’s arrival, the city’s mayor told anyone staying behind to write their names on their arms for identification purposes in case of death or injury.

“Right now we’re still hunkered down and can’t go anywhere,” said Steve Sims, the volunteer fire chief in Rockport. “We’ve heard rumours of 1,000 different things, we can’t confirm anything because we haven’t seen anything. We know we’ve got a lot of problems, but we don’t know what yet.”

A high school, hotel, senior housing complex and other buildings suffered structural damage, according to emergency officials and local media. Some were being used as shelters.

Sims said power, the internet and most cell phone service was out in the town of 10,000 where about two-thirds of residents evacuated. Most of the senior citizens and nursing homes were among the first to be evacuated, he said.

The hurricane came ashore northeast of Corpus Christi late on Friday with maximum winds of 130 miles per hour (209 km per hour). That made it a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the most powerful storm in over a decade to hit the mainland United States.

HEADING INLAND, STORM WEAKENS

The storm weakened early Saturday, but was still a strong hurricane as it moved inland at about six mph (10 km per hour), the US National Hurricane Center said.

Harvey was expected to blow across the coast and up through Louisiana for days, with forecasts for storm surges of up to four meters and over three feet (90 cm) of rain.

Nearly 10 inches of rain had already fallen in a few areas in southeastern Texas, the center said. Some areas have already seen flash floods, the National Weather Service said.

As many as 6 million people were believed to be in Harvey’s path, as is the heart of America’s oil-refining operations. The storm’s impact on refineries has already pushed up gasoline prices. The US Environmental Protection Agency eased rules on gasoline specifications late Friday to reduce shortages.

Donald Trump, facing the first big natural disaster of his presidency, said on Twitter he signed a disaster proclamation which “unleashes the full force of government help” shortly before Harvey made landfall.

“In the dark, internet out, ham radio not working. Is anybody out there? Alone trying not to be scared,” Donna McClure in Corpus Christi said on Twitter as the storm made landfall.

Utilities American Electric Power and CenterPoint Energy reported a combined total of more than 240,000 customers without power.

While thousands fled the expected devastating flooding and destruction, many residents stayed put in imperilled towns and stocked up on food, fuel and sandbags.