Harvey intensifies to hurricane, likely a major Texas storm

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Tropical Storm Harvey intensified Thursday into a hurricane that forecasters said would be the first major hurricane to hit Texas in nine years.

Sustained winds reached 80 mph (129 kph) more than a day before landfall was expected late Friday between Port O’Connor and Matagorda Bay, a 30-mile (48-kilometer) stretch of coastline about 70 miles (110 kilometers) northeast of Corpus Christi.

Forecasters said a “life-threatening” storm surge along with rains and wind were likely as Harvey was intensifying faster than previously forecast. A major hurricane means winds greater than 110 mph (177 kph).

Once Harvey makes landfall, it’s possible the storm then could just stall inland for as many as three days, exacerbating the threat of flooding brought by tropical downpours, the National Hurricane Center said. Some forecasts indicated rain totals over several days extending into next week could exceed 24 inches (60 centimeters).

“Harvey will likely be the first major hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since Wilma in 2005,” said Storm Team 8 Chief Meteorologist Steve Jerve.

“Harvey is rapidly intensifying in the Gulf and will likely be a Category 3 hurricane by the time it makes landfall.”

“This will be a major rainmaker, producing potentially a couple of feet of rain across parts of Texas,” said Steve. “Storm surge north of the storm will also be an issue.”

Harvey would be the first major hurricane to hit Texas since Ike in September 2008 brought winds of 110 mph (177 kph) to the Galveston and Houston areas and left damages of $22 billion.

Numerous cities were shipping in sandbags, extra water and other items ahead of the storm.

In Corpus Christi, dozens of people were waiting in line early Thursday at a local Sam’s Club. Down the coast in South Padre Island, Dave Evans took advantage of the free sandbags, noting he and his fiancé live in an older house prone to flooding.

“The master bedroom floods every time the rain gets very strong. I think our home is below sea level,” Evans told The Brownsville Herald.

Alex Garcia, of Corpus Christi, was buying bottled water, bread and other basics in Sugar Land, a Houston suburb, after dropping his daughter off at college in Houston.

He said grocery items likely were more available in Houston than back home, where Garcia, a beer distributor salesman, said stores were “crazy.”

“We’ll be selling lots of beer,” he laughed.

Garcia’s house is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the bay. While a seawall offers some protection, “It floods in Corpus all the time,” he said.

“Harvey is looking like it’s going to just meander around the area,” National Weather Service meteorologist Penny Zabel said. “It’s going to hang out for a few days, and that’s why we’re looking at such high rainfall amounts.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the State Operations Center to elevate its readiness level, making state resources available for possible rescue and recovery actions. Abbott also pre-emptively declared a state of disaster for 30 counties on or near the coast, to speed deployment of state resources to any areas affected.

Nearly all of the state’s 367-mile (591 kilometer) coast was under a hurricane or tropical storm warning or watch as of Thursday.

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