Many of the 450,000 residents who live in the Corpus Christi metropolitan area are gone, and the rain is steady and almost pacifying.
(TNS) — After days of ominous forecasts, watches and warnings, the first major hurricane to strike in the Gulf of Mexico in years was set to make landfall in the Corpus Christi area.
In Texas’ largest city along the Coastal Bend, the anguished wait for Hurricane Harvey began early Friday with a disturbing quiet.
Many of the 450,000 residents who live in the Corpus Christi metropolitan area are gone, and the rain is steady and almost pacifying. Thousands of families have elected to ride out the storm in their homes. Some are well-equipped; others are not.
Hurricane Harvey is expected to deliver catastrophic damage, the extent of which depends on where exactly the storm hits.
It is expected to make landfall somewhere between Corpus Christi and Rockport as a category 3 storm with winds approaching 120 miles per hour. The storm is likely to make landfall late Friday night or early Saturday morning.
“We’re expecting at least a strong category 3 storm when it comes to shore, and if it continues moving closer to Corpus Christi that’s only going to increase the possible wind, rain and damage,” Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal said.
Authorities were shifting from preparation to response mode.
“At this point, we’re focused on trying to protect life and property and riding out the storm,” Neal said.
It’ll be the first major hurricane to hit Corpus Christi since Hurricane Celia in 1970. That storm took 15 lives and caused more than $500 million in damage — $3.2 billion in today’s dollars.
Early in the day Friday, the regular, quiet patter of light rain stopped, and the winds lulled to a familiar stiff breeze in Corpus Christi.
The tranquility didn’t last. Within 30 minutes rain started falling again, this time slightly harder. Strong winds pushed the rain sideways.
All were reminders that Hurricane Harvey was only hours away.
Well before the hurricane roars ashore those breaks will end, only to be replaced by howling winds and buckets of rain that will likely persist for days.
Overnight, the storm’s trajectory shifted south, and the danger will only grow if that trend continues.
As of 7 a.m., the storm had also intensified. The sustained wind speeds reached 110 miles per hour — up from 85 miles per hour just hours earlier — and the reach of tropical storm force winds grew from 90 miles from the eye of the storm to 140 miles in either direction.
Hurricane force winds extended some 35 miles from the center, according to weather reports. A rapid drop in pressure led to the intensification.
Government leaders and residents clung to hope that the National Hurricane Center’s regular updates spaced three hours apart would show improvements Friday.
Those hopes were dashed by daybreak. Early in the day, those forecasts were only getting worse for people living between Corpus Christi and Rockport.
Still, as Hurricane Harvey barreled toward Corpus Christi with sustained winds approaching 120 miles per hour, the city was as quiet as the ever-shortening lulls between rainfall.
While people made final preparations for their homes and family, the roads were empty and businesses shuttered.
The breaks in rain will likely becoming nonexistent sometime Friday afternoon as Hurricane Harvey approaches Texas’ Coastal Bend.
Also becoming increasingly rare are cars on the road — much of the city appears to have listened to the warnings and fled the hurricane’s destructive path.
Just days ago, there was little talk of evacuations.
Corpus Christi Police Chief Mike Markle said there would need to be “significant intensification, among other worsening factors.”
Neal told the Nueces County Emergency Operations Center Wednesday that evacuation was “off the table — unless something really, really bad happens.”
City and county officials stand behind their initial assessments, even as the storm is expected to wreak havoc on the Coastal Bend with the same intensity that Hurricane Katrina had when it devastated New Orleans 12 years ago.
Early in the week then-Tropical Depression Harvey was being dubbed a “rain event” with almost no chance of drawing comparisons to the most recent major hurricane to hit the United States.
The storm had puffed its chest a week earlier in the Caribbean Sea to become a tropical storm, but it ultimately fizzled.
It was supposed to do the same thing again.
By Thursday morning the storm had slowed to a snail’s pace, allowing it to build strength in the warm waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico.
By Thursday evening evacuation orders were common along the Coastal Bend, and residents from Rockport to Corpus Christi’s Southside were trying frantically to board up their homes and flee on short notice.
Traffic backed up, and many people wept not knowing what their world will look like when they return — whenever that is.
National Weather Service forecasts for the event warn of “devastating and life-threatening” conditions. Storm surge maps, coupled with forecasts, indicate huge swaths of the city may be underwater by Saturday afternoon.
Officials just don’t know what to expect.
Equally as important as the storm’s intensity when it makes landfall is where the eye of storm crosses the shore.
The initial estimates varied widely with some models indicating landfall near the Texas-Mexico border and others putting Galveston in the cross hairs.
At one point, Corpus Christi was on the edge of the storm’s cone of possible baths. Now it’s in the center.
Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb said residents who have “tried to catch a greased pig” would have the best chance of understanding officials’ angst as the storm has changed.
AEP Texas Spokesman Omar Lopez said “we are at the mercy of the storm,” when asked how long damage to a pair of power lines that service Mustang and Padre Islands would take to repair.
For some, the unpredictability has those remaining in the city hoping the news doesn’t continue to worsen. For others, it meant leaving without taking steps to secure a home.
Ken Mower, 53, was in the first camp, even though he wasn’t worried about the storm.
He thought Hurricane Harvey was supposed to hit well north of here, so he and his wife decided early on they would ride out the storm.
He acknowledged they may have considered leaving if they had known days ago how much danger landfall south of Corpus Christi could present.
But then again, maybe not. Mower also represents another group in Corpus Christi — those who simply have few options outside staying.
Mower, who lives near Waco and Comanche streets, said he had nowhere else to go.
Near the city’s urban core, cars line driveways and curbside parking lanes, and many windows are either untouched or boarded by pieces scrap wood that don’t exactly fit.
Hurricane Harvey is poised to do some of the worst damage to areas of the city and region that can least afford it.
The wait was almost over.
©2017 Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas)
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