HOUSTON — Helicopters plucked flood victims from rooftops Sunday as the Coast Guard joined local and state emergency personnel conducting hundreds of rescues amid punishing rains and flooding wrought by remnants of Hurricane Harvey blasting deeper into Texas.
Residents of the Texas Gulf Coast braced for days of catastrophic flooding. The storm had claimed at least two lives by early Sunday, but it was too soon to know the full extent of the death and destruction as power and cellphone outages made communications difficult.
President Trump lauded teamwork among the various agencies battling the disaster.
"I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption," President Trump tweeted Sunday. "The focus must be life and safety."
Flooding was overwhelming in the Houston metropolitan area and was only expected to get worse, the National Weather Service said. Parts of Harris County, Texas, had been hit with more than 20 inches of rain in 24 hours, much of it concentrated in the middle of the night.
"Pretty much the entire southeast side of Harris County has had 13 to 15 inches of rain in three hours," said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District.
This is “worse than the worst-case scenario for Houston,” tweeted WeatherBell meteorologist Ryan Maue.
Officials were warning residents to not get into their attics to avoid rising floodwaters. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted, "we have reports of people getting into attic to escape floodwater. Do not do so unless you have an ax or means to break through onto your roof."
Gov. Greg Abbott said more than a thousand state emergency personnel were aiding local authorities in water rescues. The Coast Guard said it had received more than 300 requests for search and rescues in Houston. Five helicopters were conducting rescues in Houston, and more choppers were coming in from New Orleans to aid the effort.
"If you are in a flooding situation, stay calm, do not panic," the Coast Guard said in a statement. "Do not go into the attic, rescuers from the air cannot see you."
Officials are urging people to stay off of the roads. The floodwaters themselves are a hideous, toxic brew, with reports of alligators and swarming fire ants in the water.
Lindner called the rainfall totals "staggering." And more torrential rain is coming: Harvey is nearly stationary and little in the way of movement is expected through Monday, the weather service said.
“Although it is forecast to be downgraded to a tropical depression by Sunday night and beyond, the extremely heavy rainfall is forecast to persist into the beginning of the work week,” the weather service said.
In Aransas County southwest of Houston, where the storm made landfall Friday night, Sheriff Bill Mills said 30 to 40 people remained unaccounted for as of Saturday evening. About 30 people were being treated for injuries in his county alone, he said.
Two Aransas County municipalities, Rockport, with a population of 10,000, and Port Aransas, with about 4,000 people, took the brunt of the storm as it slammed into the coast. At least 10 injuries were reported from collapsed roofs in Rockport, which is 25 miles northeast of Corpus Christi and 220 miles southwest of Houston.
Nearby Port Aransas was particularly vulnerable perched on a narrow strip of Mustang Island, which sits at the entrance to Corpus Christi Bay. It registered the strongest wind gust of 132 mph from Harvey, according to the National Weather Service.
The two towns, like dozens over others in the area, reported widespread damage as emergency teams searched for any survivors trapped in low-lying areas or collapsed buildings.
Meteorologists were awed by the scope of the disaster.
“This could easily be one of the worst flooding disasters in U.S. history,” tweeted Weather Channel meteorologist Greg Postel, who said he cannot think of an analogous flood event.