Abbott Urges Harvey Evacuations for Houston, But Turner Says Hold on a Minute

The eye of the storm approaches the Texas coast.
The eye of the storm approaches the Texas coast. NOAA radar
Update 9:25 p.m.: This evening, the National Weather Service has reported that Harvey is now a Category 4 hurricane.

Governor Greg Abbott has asked President Donald Trump to issue a federal disaster declaration ahead of Hurricane Harvey's arrival on the Texas coast later tonight, Abbott announced at a press conference Friday afternoon.

Abbott, Trump and FEMA officials have been discussing and preparing for Harvey's likely devastating and record-breaking flooding, and Abbott said Trump has pledged to assist Texas in every way possible.

The National Weather Service officially upgraded Harvey to a Category 3 hurricane around 2 p.m. Friday, with sustained winds of up to 120 miles an hour. Houston remains under a tropical storm warning, as well as a flash flood watch, tornado watch and storm surge watch.

"It’s a hurricane that’s going to prove more dangerous than many hurricanes," Abbott said. "Not only are we going to be dealing with the high winds that typically come with what should be a Category 3 hurricane, but we are going to be dealing with immense, record-setting flooding in multiple regions across the state of Texas. This is a hurricane that will come inland and then hover for a long period of time. It could be days, and during that long period of time, there will be a tremendous amount of rain dropped upon miles upon miles of Texas, ranging all the way from Corpus Christi to Houston."

Abbott urged all Texans to heed any mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders issued by local city and county officials—but even urged people to "strongly consider" evacuating even if no evacuation order has been issued.

He made comparisons to Houston's catastrophic Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, saying that Harvey is bringing rivaling amounts of rain. The National Weather Service has forecast between 18 and 24 inches of rain for the Houston region. As such, he even urged Houstonians to consider evacuating farther north, a suggestion that contradicts advice from local officials and Mayor Sylvester Turner.

"I would urge people to strongly consider the evacuation process," he said, "because there is the possibility that people may have to go a long time without access to basic necessities, without access to water, food, power. If you have the ability to evacuate and go somewhere else for a little while, it would be good."

At a 4 p.m. press conference, Mayor Turner and County Judge Ed Emmett re-emphasized that there has not been nor will be any evacuation order for Houston, nor would they recommend voluntarily evacuating. Turner had recalled the disaster that a mandatory evacuation order during Hurricane Rita created in 2005, when people died of heat exhaustion on the highway and had to be rescued during the immense gridlock. At the presser, he and Emmett said that, given Houston is not in Harvey’s hurricane path and is dealing instead with a large rain event, this is not the type of storm that would prompt evacuations.

“In the City of Houston, this is a rain maker,” Turner said of the tropical storm that Harvey is bringing to Houston. “There’s no need for people to be thinking about leaving, getting on the road and putting themselves in danger. Quite frankly, you can be putting yourself in more danger by getting on the road.”

Turner said he and Abbott have not spoken on the phone, but Emmett said when he talked to Abbott this afternoon, Abbott assured him the message to people would be "listen to your local officials" about evacuations.
Additionally, Turner said municipal courts will be closed this weekend, and so will libraries and the BARC animal shelter except in case of an emergency. Park events have been canceled. Metro is currently running as scheduled, but Metro urges people who rely on public transportation to sign up for service alerts on as Harvey may affect service due to flooding.

Abbott, having already declared a state of disaster for 30 counties on Wednesday, has also deployed approximately 1,000 members of the National Guard, as well as hundreds in the Texas Task Force to assist with search and rescues up and down the coast.

The Houston Fire Department, Police Department and Public Works Department are all prepared with high-water rescue vehicles as well, and Public Works is ready to block off about 41 flood-prone locations along Houston roads should flash flooding occur.

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn