HOUSTON — Former Tropical Storm Harvey drifted erratically toward the Texas Gulf Coast late Wednesday amid forecasts it could become a hurricane by landfall later this week, dumping heavy rain and raising the threat of flooding.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the tropical depression was expected to intensify over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before reaching the Texas coast sometime late Friday. Emergency officials geared up as forecasters predicted heavy rains in parts of eastern Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi that could continue for days.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott 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.
Emergency officials asked residents along the upper Texas coastline to move or prepare to move inland. Those in low-lying areas were urged to seek higher ground, and those elsewhere were told to monitor official announcements closely. As of Wednesday afternoon, the campus of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi was the only area under a mandatory evacuation order.
On South Padre Island, people filled sandbags and loaded them into cars and vans to take to protect exposed homes and businesses. Others in the forecast path of the storm sought out generators, plywood and other goods from hardware stores.
Meanwhile, rice farmers in coastal Matagorda County moved quickly to harvest their crops.
Rainfall totals of 10 to 15 inches (250-380 millimeters) were possible over the middle and upper Texas coast and southwest Louisiana through Tuesday, the Miami-based hurricane center said.
At 10 p.m. CDT Wednesday, Harvey was centered about 445 miles (715 kms) southeast of Port Mansfield, Texas. It was moving northwest at about 2 mph (4 kph) and had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph). The hurricane center said Harvey could regain tropical storm status in coming hours on its crawl over the Gulf.
A hurricane watch was issued for the coast from Port Mansfield at the south to San Luis Pass, at the western end of Galveston Island, at the north. A storm surge watch was in effect for Port Mansfield to High Island, just up the coast from Galveston.
A tropical storm watch was in effect for Boca de Catan, Mexico, just south of the Texas border, to Port Mansfield and from San Luis Pass to High Island.