Home >> World

Hurricane Harvey claims 22 lives, Houston Mayor imposes nightly curfew

The biggest rainstorm in the history of the continental United States finally began to move away from Houston on Tuesday, and it was time to take stock of the damage and devastation it left behind while it spun east to ravage Louisiana instead.

After more than 50 inches of rain over four days, Houston looked less like a city and more like an archipelago: a chain of urbanized islands in a muddy brown sea. All around it, flat-bottomed boats and helicopters were still plucking victims from rooftops, and water was still pouring in from overfilled reservoirs and swollen rivers.

Between 25 and 30 percent of Harris County - home to 4.5 million people in Houston and its near suburbs - was flooded by Tuesday afternoon, according to an estimate from Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the county flood control district. That's at least 444 square miles, an area six times the size of the District of Columbia.

The mayor of Houston imposed a nightly curfew and urged people not to move out of their homes

Authorities added that there had been reports of people impersonating law enforcement officers in communities such as Kingwood, falsely telling people they needed to evacuate.

On Tuesday morning authorities discovered the body of a Houston police officer who had drowned in his patrol car two days earlier, at the storm's height. Sergeant Steve Perez, a veteran officer, was on his way to work on Sunday morning - spending two and a half hours looking for a path through rain-lashed streets - when he drove into a flooded underpass.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said that Perez's wife had asked him not to go in that day. He went, Acevedo said, "because he has that in his DNA."

In all, authorities said at least 22 people had been confirmed dead from the storm. But they said it was difficult to know how many more were missing. They also said it is too early to assess the total number of homes and other buildings damaged, in part because rescue crews were still having trouble even reaching some areas because of flooded or flood-damaged roads, said Francisco Sanchez, spokesman for the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"We're still in the middle of the response," he said.

Authorities said more than 13,000 people had been rescued from floodwaters, according to the Associated Press, but that number was surely low. Many had been rescued by strangers with boats, who had rescued so many that they themselves had lost count. They left behind homes that could be flooded for days, or weeks, and perhaps lost forever.

Officials said more than 13,300 people were already in shelters. Federal authorities estimated that 30,000 people could be forced from their homes in Texas and surrounding states.