Tropical Storm Harvey continued to pummel southeast Texas on Monday, leaving at least nine people dead and vast swaths of the nation’s fourth-largest city unrecognizable as murky brown water submerged highways, houses, shopping plazas and entire neighborhoods.
Federal officials said more than 30,000 people in Houston and across the Gulf Coast were likely to seek temporary shelter as Harvey, which initially made landfall as a hurricane, continued to drench parts of Texas and Louisiana with heavy rain and surging floodwaters.
Parts of Harris County have seen 30 inches of rain — and an additional 15 to 25 inches are still on the way as Harvey regains strength, the National Weather Service said.
“It has to be categorized as one of the largest disasters America has ever faced,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters.
But the precise toll of the brutal storm remained unknown. Emergency officials had no way of knowing how many people might be dead and not yet discovered, or how many others were trapped in their homes.
As the rain kept pouring, as many as 13 million people from Houston to New Orleans were under flood watches and warnings. Many residents climbed to the upper stories of their homes. Some even pitched tents on roofs, waiting it out until a boat or helicopter swooped in.
“Harvey has in many ways turned southeast Texas into an inland lake … the size of Lake Michigan,” said Brad Kieserman, vice president of disaster operations and logistics for the American Red Cross.
By Monday evening, the death toll had risen to nine. Officials in Harris County, which includes Houston, reported at least six “potentially storm-related” fatalities. A 60-year-old woman died Monday in Porter, a small community north of Houston, when a large oak fell on her mobile home. Another person died in the small coastal town of Rockport, near where Harvey made landfall. A 52-year-old homeless man was found in La Marque, a small city near Galveston.
Local officials were looking into reports that a family of six — four children and their great-grandparents — drowned Sunday near Greens Bayou in east Houston. Virginia Saldivar, 59, said her brother-in-law, Sam, crossed a bridge over the bayou as he was driving her grandchildren and her husband’s parents to higher ground when the current swept up the van.
As the van nosedived into the water, Sam climbed out of the front seat and urged the children to open the back doors. But the current moved too swiftly. As he grabbed on to a tree limb, he watched the van disappear into the water.
“I just want my babies,” said Saldivar, who is at her son’s house in Humble, Texas. “We don’t have the bodies. We don’t know where the van is, if it’s down in the bayou.”
I just want my babies.
Across the region, a navy of amateurs in kayaks, motorboats, airboats and circular pool floats searched for stranded survivors, sometimes persuading hardheaded homeowners that they needed to leave their flooded homes.
Men and women, with grief and relief written on their faces, waded out from the water with whole families in tow, holding what belongings they could carry — sometimes babies and pets, which they held delicately over the water. Lives depended on it.
In Washington, President Trump, who planned to visit southern Texas on Tuesday, predicted that federal aid would be delivered quickly.
“You’re going to see very rapid action from Congress, certainly from the president…. We think you’re going to have what you need and it’s going to go fast,” Trump said at a news conference with the Finnish president in Washington.
But he cautioned that the extent of the disaster was still unknown.
“It’s a long road. Still pouring. Nobody’s ever seen anything like it. I’ve heard the word epic. I’ve heard historic. That’s what it is,” he said.
At a news conference in Corpus Christi on Monday, Gov. Abbott emphasized that the region’s journey to recovery was just beginning.
“There is much to do,” he said. “This is a place that Texas and FEMA will be involved in for a long, long time… We need to recognize it’s going to be a new normal — a new and different normal for this entire region.”
By Monday morning, 911 operators had received 56,000 calls, but the backlog that left residents hanging on the telephone, calls unanswered, was almost resolved, city officials said. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said officers had rescued 2,000 people from flooding in the city and 185 critical requests for help remained pending.
“Our goal is to complete the rescues of all critical missions today,” Acevedo said.
“It’s still a very dangerous situation out there,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said, noting that there had been 290 water rescues since midnight and his department also had pending calls. “We’re expecting more rain. We’re expecting the demand for our services is going to increase.”
By Monday afternoon, nearly 7,000 people filled the two main Houston-area shelters, and local officials were looking for another major shelter to house the streams of displaced residents.
Houston braced for yet more water as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened two swollen flood-control reservoirs early Monday. The corps said it needed to undertake a controlled release of water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs to limit the scope of the disaster.
“It could create additional problems, additional flooding,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a news conference Monday. “People who were not in a crisis state yesterday may find themselves in a crisis state today.”
Strong currents proved a challenge Monday morning as half a dozen volunteers with a pontoon boot tried to save 20 people, including children and the elderly, trapped in a flooded neighborhood in Spring, at the northern edge of Houston.
People called out for help from the upper levels of two-story homes. But the 40-foot boat could save only a dozen at a time. After they launched to attempt the rescue, a Harris County deputy constable ran up to the crew, frantic. Authorities planned to release more water from Lake Conroe to the north that would overwhelm the creek, he said.
The boat retreated without saving anyone.
“We couldn’t get them,” Mandi Davis, 36, of Spring said when she landed. “The current was too strong and the water was too deep. They’re going to have to get airlifted out.”
Genesis Rivas, 20, and her family were disappointed to see the volunteers return empty-handed. Seven of her relatives were stranded, including her grandmother and two children, ages 4 and 2. She estimated 200 people were trapped on her street.
“We’re worried about the kids,” she said as the group huddled under an umbrella near the would-be rescuers. “Hay mucha agua — the water is too strong,” she told a relative in a mix of Spanish and English. Her sister watched astonished as an Austin special operations rescue crew arrived, checked the water and departed.
“They’re just going to leave the people there?” said Odaly Ticas, 23. “It’s more than 200 people. There was a cop with a boat just here. I don’t know why they left.”
Samir Novruzov wades through water to get to a vehicle after spending the day clearing out his flooded home in Katy, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Melissa Teague, right, instructs her children Andrew and Emily as they clear out their flooded home in Katy, Texas, on Monday.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
People ride through floodwaters in Katy, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
People hop off Chris Ginter’s truck as he helps ferry residents around Katy, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Two men collect a disposed mattress as residents in the Trinity/Houston Garden area of northeast Houston gut their flooded homes.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Wayne Christopher, center, weeps as his wife, Helen, looks on during a Sunday service at First United Methodist Church in Dickinson, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Hurricane Harvey severely damaged the First Baptist Church in Rockport, Texas. Worshipers on Sunday brought their own chairs to take part in an outdoor service.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ken Garrett, right, hugs Pastor Jordan Mims after they both delivered prayers on the grounds of the First Baptist Church in Rockport, Texas.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
University of Houston law professor Johnny Buckles props up an American flag on the debris pile from his flood-damaged home in the Kingwood area of north Houston.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Jose Esquivel flags down motorists to visit a parking lot full of donated clothes, supples, water and brisket in Refugio, Texas.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Despite heavy damage and no electricity, a homeowner displays his patriotism while clean up and recovery efforts continue in his devastated neighborhood of Rockport.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Volunteers from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, Yusuf Seager, from left, Rahib Ahmed, Rahman Nasir, and Khalil Nasir help tear out drywall damaged by floodwater in the Westbury neighborhood in Houston.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Volunteers from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association help residents of the Westbury neighborhood in Houston clear debris from their homes. It is also the Islamic holiday of Eid-ul-Adha. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Jenna Fountain and her father Kevin carry a bucket down Regency Drive to try to recover items from their flooded home in Port Arthur, Texas on Thursday.(Emily Kask / AFP / Getty Images)
Lillie Roberts talks with family members as contractor Jerry Garza begins the process of repairing her Houston home on Friday.(Scott Olson / Getty Images)
to perform holy prayer as they help local residents in the Kashmere Gardens area of Houston clean out their flooded homes.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Volunteers assist Cornell Beasley with repairs to his damaged home in Houston on Friday.(Scott Olson / Getty Images)
Katie Estridge organizes hundreds of soaked family photographs on the front lawn of her father’s home in northeast Houston.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Wes Higgins wipes sweat from his face after spending five days patrolling flooded Houston neighborhoods in his boat. Higgins, from Knott, Texas, organized a volunteer team of 10 boats to help Houston residents.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Members of the California Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing, Senior Airman George McKenzie, left, and Master Sgt. Adam Vanhaaster, right, help a man carry his infant, who has a serious medical condition, to a hospital in Orange, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A search-and-rescue crew speeds along Maple Rock Drive in west Houston looking for flood victims.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A woman and a child are among those rescued by California Air National Guardsmen in Lumberton, north of Beaumont.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
California Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing’s Master Sgt. Adam Vanhaaster searches for people in need of help near Lumberton.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A man prepares his dinner at home near Lumberton.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Boys sit on a damaged railroad track near Lumberton.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A woman waves to a California Air National Guard helicopter from her neighborhood near Lumberton.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A drop-off point for boat rescues in Lumberton.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Baseball fields in Lumberton are inundated.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Coca-Cola delivery trucks are trapped by floodwater in Lumberton, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A military search and rescue helicopter refuels mid-flight before resuming nighttime missions over areas flooded in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Houston police search a flooded home after hearing that an elderly couple lived there. The house was empty. Police later learned the couple had safely evacuated.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
West Houston resident Pedro Albiso uses trash bags to protect his shoes and pants as he prepares to cross a flooded street.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Patients are evacuated from Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas after the city of Beaumont lost its water supply.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Fatima Flores, 12, gets her hair done by cousins Shelly Flores, 7, left, and Ashley Flores, 7, as their family takes shelter at Max Bowl, a bowling alley in Port Arthur, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
James Benoit, left, and George Clipton sought refuge at Max Bowl in Port Arthur, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
June Ayrow spent the night with his oxygen tanks underneath a table at Max Bowl in Port Arthur, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Floodwaters fill the road through the Lakes On Eldridge North subdivision in Houston on Thursday.(Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle)
Floodwaters surround homes Thursday in Port Arthur, Texas.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Volunteers rescue patients from the Cypress Glen nursing home where floodwaters trapped dozens of elderly patients in Port Arthur, Texas on Wednesday.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Residents lie on sofas as they wait to be evacuated from the Cypress Glen senior care facility in Port Arthur, Texas, which was inundated with floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Wednesday.(Matt Pearce / Los Angeles Times)
Emergency crews help rescue elderly residents from the Golden Years Assisted Living home in Orange, Texas, on Wednesday.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Staff Sgt. Lawrence Lind, left, hoists a child into a Black Hawk helicopter while Sgt. Ray Smith helps the boy who was rescued in Port Arthur, Texas.(Chris Machian / Omaha World-Herald)
Rescuer workers help a woman from her flooded home n Port Arthur, Texas.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Evacuees ride on a truck after they were driven from their homes by the flooding in Port Arthur, Texas.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
People wait in line to buy groceries at a Food Town during the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey.(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
Juan Figueroa removes damaged furniture from his mother’s northeast Houston home where residents begin rebuilding from the devastating effects of the storm.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rafael Minor, left, and Miguel Ramirez remove the contents from a flooded home in northeast Houston on Wednesday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A construction crew cleans out a home that was flooded by Tropical Storm Harvey in Spring, Texas.(Brett Coomer / Associated Press)
People line up to volunteer at NRG Center, which opened its doors to evacuees in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey.(Michael Ciaglo / Asscociated Press)
Chris Gutierrez, second from right, helps his grandmother, Edelmira Gutierrez, down the stairs of their flooded house in Houston.(Michael Ciaglo / Houston Chronicle)
A flooded residential neighborhood near Interstate 10 in Houston, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A flooded residential neighborhood near Interstate 10 in Houston, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
People come out to view the flooded areas near their homes in Houston, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
CaroLine Kirkpatrick of Salt Lake City, Utah, is evacuated from the Omni Hotel by rescue worker Adam Caballero in Addicks, a suburb of Houston, Texas.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
People displaced by flooding fill the shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.(LM Otero / Associated Press)
Rescuers move Paulina Tamirano, 92, from a boat to a truck bed as people evacuate from rising waters in Houston.(Michael Ciaglo / Houston Chronicle)
Mark Ocosta and his baby, Aubrey, take shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Frantzy Thenor receives an embrace from a fellow evacuee after he helped her leave from the flooded Omni Hotel, in the Addicks area of Houston, Texas.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Storm clouds over Houston skyline.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Recreational vehicles sit on their sides in flood water in Houston, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A woman carries a dog above the rising floodwaters near Addicks Reservoir.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Eduardo Retiz, 21, drives his elevated pickup truck through a flooded street near Addicks Reservoir.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Mike Hoskovec, left, walks to a boat after helping friend Ben Berg, behind, move some photo albums to the second floor of his Nottingham Woods home.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Matthew Koser looks for important papers and heirlooms inside his grandfather’s house after it was flooded by heavy rains.(Erich Schlegel / Getty Images)
Residents wade through floodwaters as they evacuate their homes near the Addicks Reservoir Tuesday.(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
Larry Koser Jr., left and his son Matthew look for important papers and heirlooms inside Larry Koser Sr.'s house after it was flooded by heavy rains.(Erich Schlegel / Getty Images)
Portions of Interstate 10 remain flooded in Houston, Texas.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Rising flood waters stranded hundreds of residents of Twin Oaks Village in Clodine.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Comfort Morgan is helped to dry land after being rescued from her flooded home in Twin Oaks Village in Clodine.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rising flood waters stranded hundreds of residents of Twin Oaks Village in Clodine, where a collection of small boat owners, including some with pool toys, coordinated to bring most to dry ground.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rising flood waters stranded hundreds of residents of Twin Oaks Village in Clodine, where an collection of small boat owners coordinated to bring most to dry ground.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds of residents of Twin Oaks Village are evacuated in Clodine Monday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Residents are stranded at Twin Oaks Village in Clodine due to rising flood water.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Stranded residents of Twin Oaks Village in Clodine are evacuated from the rising flood water.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Jan Tullos, 32, searches a flooded home for an injured woman who was reportedly stranded inside in Clodine, Texas. The home was empty.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
People walk down a flooded Houston street as they evacuate their homes after the area was inundated with rains from Tropical Storm Harvey.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Dean Mize holds children as he and Jason Legnon use an airboat to rescue people from flooded homes in Houston on Monday.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Dean Mize, left and Jason Legnon carry a person to an airboat as they rescue people in Houston.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Evacuees walk down a flooded street after leaaving their homes Monday in Houston.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Dean Mize holds a child as he helps evacuate people in Houston as Tropical Storm Harvey continues to drench southeastern Texas and Louisiana with heavy rains and surging floodwaters.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
People evacuate their flooded homes on Monday in Houston. By Monday morning, 911 operators had received 56,000 calls, city officials said.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Adults use a kiddie pool to transport children as they evacuate on Monday.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
People catch a ride on a construction vehicle down a flooded Houston street.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Residents of the La Vita Bella nursing home in Dickinson, Texas, on Sunday sit in waist-deep flood waters caused by Hurricane Harvey. Authorities have said all the residents were safely evacuated from the facility.(Trudy Lampson )
Mindy Walker and her 3-year-old son, Connor Martinez, are helped out of a boat after being rescued from their home along Cypress Creek, 15 miles northwest of downtown Houston, on Monday.(Michael Wyke / European Pressphoto Agency)
Alexendre Jorge evacuates Ethan Colman, 4, from a Houston neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey.(Charlie Riedel / AP)
People push a stalled pickup to through a flooded street in Houston on Sunday, as Tropical Storm Harvey dumped heavy rains.(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
A member of the Texas National Guard rescues a woman from a heavily flooded area in Houston on Aug. 27.(Lt. Zachary West / Texas National Guard )
A Houston police officer helps Frank Andrews, 74, into his walking chair after rescuing him from his flooded home in the Braeswood Place neighborhood, southwest of Houston, on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Neighbors used their personal boats to rescue Jane Rhodesin Friendswood, Texas, on Sunday.(Steve Gonzales / Houston Chronicle )
Wilford Martinez, right, is rescued from his flooded car by Harris County Sheriff’s Department Richard Wagner along Interstate 610 in Houston, Texas.(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
Daniel Gross, 15, is rescued by Houston police after he was stranded on top of his car in southwest Houston.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Emily Zurawski cries while inspecting her home in Port Aransas, Texas, on Sunday.(Nick Wagner / Austin American-Statesman)
Two kayakers try to beat the current pushing them down an overflowing Brays Bayou along South Braeswood Boulevard in Houston.(Mark Mulligan / Houston Chronicle)
Andrew White, left, helps a neighbor down a street after rescuing her from her home in his boat in the upscale River Oaks neighborhood after it was inundated with flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey.(Scott Olson / Getty Images)
Rescuers transfer Claude Young on a back board from a boat in Houston on Sunday. The elderly man had suffered a stroke earlier in the year.(Melissa Phillip / Houston Chronicle)
Volunteers and officers from the neighborhood security patrol help rescue residents in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood Sunday.(Scott Olson / Getty Images)
Jesus Nunez carries his daughter Genesis, 6, as he and numerous family members flee their flooded home, walking nearly four hours to the safety of a relative’s house on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
With forecasters predicting that the Brazos River, which runs southwest of Houston, would crest at 59 feet — topping its record of 54.7 feet — local officials on Sunday urged residents in low-lying areas to leave their homes to find safer ground.
“Evacuate immediately,” the city of Rosenberg urged residents on Twitter.
On Sunday night, Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert issued mandatory evacuation orders for more districts.
“Fifty-nine feet represents at least an 800-year flood event, and there’s no levee designed to prevent an 800-year flood,” he said at a news conference.
As many as 100,000 residents in Fort Bend — about 20% of the county’s population — were under voluntary and mandatory evacuations, he said.
In Houston, the police chief urged residents to be patient, saying it was still extremely difficult to reach those who were stranded in flooded homes.
“You know, the dams are about to open and that’s not music to my ears, I can tell you that much,” Acevedo said on a livestream video late Sunday as he cruised the city’s southwest freeway in the dark amid torrential rain.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “They said it was going to be a five-day event, and I’m telling you, Harvey’s going to make us sweat every single day.”
By Monday evening, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Harvey’s center was 55 miles east of Port O’Connor and slowly moving east-southeast at 3 mph. On Tuesday, it is expected to gradually turn northeast toward the shore of the middle and upper Texas coasts.
As Harvey moved closer to neighboring Louisiana, bringing up to 25 inches of rain in the southwest part of the state, Trump declared “emergency conditions” in the state.
Just a few inches of rain could cause serious problems in New Orleans, which is still recovering from flooding after thunderstorms this month overwhelmed the city’s drainage system.
Hundreds of people who were stranded at Houston’s Hobby Airport arrived in Dallas late Sunday on specially approved “rescue flights.”
David Best, 60, of Cedar Hill, outside Dallas, got stuck after a weeklong vacation with friends in Belize. He slept on the floor, ate rationed burritos from the only restaurant open — Pappasito’s — and hoped for relief.
“I felt sorry for the airport employees who were there and got trapped,” he said after his Southwest flight arrived at Dallas’ Love Field. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to be over for some time. They’re talking about that storm coming right up through the center of Houston again.”
Times staff writers Pearce and Hennessy-Fiske reported from Houston and special correspondent Jarvie from Atlanta. Times graphics and data visualization journalist Paul Duginski and staff writer Ann M. Simmons in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
7:35 p.m.: The story was updated with additional details on rescues and deaths.
1:35 p.m.: The story was updated with a comment from President Trump.
1:20 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
12:30 p.m.: The story was updated with a revised death toll.
11:10 a.m.: The story was updated with more on 911 calls, death toll, position of storm.
10:15 a.m.: The story was updated with new figures for 911 calls and other details.
9:20 a.m.: The story was updated with the number of rescues and details from the scene of an attempted rescue in Spring, Texas.
The story was originally published at 8:10 a.m.