A climbing death toll in Texas due to Hurricane Harvey

Photo courtesy of ABC News.

(ABC NEWS) – The death toll has climbed to seven in Texas amid the “epic and catastrophic” flooding left behind in the southeast part of the state from Hurricane Harvey.

On Monday evening, Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner confirmed three deaths in Houston.

Three other storm-related deaths occurred in La Marque, East Montgomery County and the coastal city of Rockport.

Houston, the country’s fourth largest city, has been inundated with flooding as result of Harvey, which made landfall late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and lingered as a tropical storm over the weekend.

The National Weather Service deemed the deadly flooding, which forced evacuations and wiped out homes, “epic and catastrophic.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has activated the entire Texas National Guard. The total number of guardsmen available to the state is roughly 12,000, and all of them will be used in support of recovery efforts in southeast Texas, according to Abbott.

“These guys have saved our lives,” one woman rescued by Texas National Guard soldiers said in a video by Staff Sgt. Tim Pruitt. Her husband and dogs were also rescued. “We’ve been in water all day, actually since last night, and we didn’t think help was coming. … Thank you so much.”

Abbott told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” on Monday that he expects the aftermath of Harvey to be “horrific,” leaving a mess that will “take years” to rebuild.

ABC News meteorologists anticipate that more rain will fall this week.

As of mid-Monday, ABC News meteorologists said radar shows heavy rain bands remaining near Houston and moving across southern Louisiana. A tornado watch is in effect from east of Houston to New Orleans.

ABC News meteorologists say about 20 to 40 inches of rain has already fallen in the Houston area. As of mid-Monday, the highest rain was 39.72 inches near Dayton, Texas. Rainfall totals could reach 50 inches by the end of the week.

Crews and good Samaritans conduct rescues

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday that rescues were officials’ No. 1 priority.

As of mid-Monday, Harris County Sheriff’s deputies have conducted more than 2,000 high-water rescues.

The city’s police chief, Art Acevedo, said 2,000 residents of Houston have been rescued so far and that 185 “critical” rescue requests were still pending as of Monday morning.

Acevedo said on “GMA” Monday that those in distress should exercise patience as they wait for help.

“Just hunker down, hold tight — we hear you, we feel you. Believe me,” Acevedo told “GMA.” “But when you think about just the numbers that we’ve been dealing with, we have to do it safely. We want to make sure that when we get you, we get you out safely and we don’t hurt you or you get hurt during the rescue operation.”

Capt. Kevin Oditt of the Coast Guard, which has performed more than 2,000 rescues by air and water, said, “Our crews have been operating non-stop.”

“This is an all-hands-on-deck event bringing crews from all over the nation to help with our response,” Oditt said.

Besides the professionals, amateur rescuers have snatched up people from submerged streets and flooded homes, using motorboats, kayaks and canoes.

Abe Minor, a UPS worker, told “GMA” that he used his nephew’s boat to help rescue some of his wife’s friends on Sunday. After he went to get them, he realized that other people needed assistance and got to work helping others.

“People were screaming out, ‘Help, help, help,’ and you know, ‘We’ll come back for you. We’ll come back for you,’” Minor said. “One turned to two, two turned to three, three turned to four, next thing you know there’s 20 different people you’ve rescued, along with their animals.”

ABC Houston station KTRK-TV interviewed a father and two sons who took a tractor that was pulling kayaks through high waters to look for people who need to be rescued.

“We’re just trying to save people and get them to land,” 11-year-old Damien told KTRK-TV.

One man named Chuck Clark, who was helping with rescues, told KTRK-TV, “Having lived here a long time, being a local, it’s just heartbreaking.”

“Several folks that I’m friends with and that I work with had their homes flooded,” he said. “We’re just out here looking for people to help.”

When a KTRK-TV reporter asked why he’s volunteering, Clark responded, “Because it’s the right thing to do. Because that’s what we do. This is Texas. We take care of each other. We love each other. And if our neighbor needs help, that’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to do it every time.”

A man named Butch came to Houston with a group of veterans to help conduct rescues. He told KTRK-TV, “Us being vets, we’re built to help somebody, and go in and do what we can do. And that’s what we’re here to do. … Anybody that needs help, we’re here to try.”

Thousands of evacuees shelter at convention center

Thousands of evacuees have streamed in by the busload to Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, the largest shelter serving victims of Harvey. The shelter originally said it could take 5,000 but is currently over capacity at 6,000.

The center is looking for more volunteers, especially mental health specialists, nurses and social workers. One volunteer told ABC News he has been working since the shelter opened. He said he hasn’t stopped to sleep, and instead keeps checking people in and offering them towels.

A long line of cars has formed outside the convention center, where people are coming to deliver supplies and cheer the evacuees.

One man delivered supplies dressed up in full costume as “Batman,” and his 4-year old son joined him, dressed up as “Little Batman.” The young and old stopped and smiled at the duo, who brought clothes and activity packs to the children at the convention center.

“The people of Houston need a hero,” Batman told ABC News. “It was my idea!” Little Batman said.

Trump to visit Texas

President Donald Trump is set to visit Texas on Tuesday and said he may return to Texas on Saturday and also visit Louisiana, where floodwaters are growing and may get worse later this week.

Trump said Monday at a joint news conference with the president of Finland, “To the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are 100 percent with you. We’re praying for you, we’re working closely with your leaders and officials, and I will be visiting the impact zone tomorrow to ensure that you’re receiving full support and cooperation from the federal government.

“My administration is coordinating closely with state and local authorities in Texas and Louisiana to save lives, and we thank our first responders and all of those involved in their efforts,” Trump added. “We’ve pledged our full support as Texas and Louisiana battle and recover from this very devastating and historic storm.

“Recovery will be a long and difficult road, and the federal government stands ready, willing and able to support that effort. Right now the single most important thing is the safety and security of those still in harm’s way, including the first responders who have been so terrific and brave,” Trump continued.

“Tragic times such as these bring out the best in America’s character; strength, charity and resilience are those characters,” the president added. “We see neighbor helping neighbor, friend helping friend and stranger helping stranger. … We are one American family. We hurt together, we struggle together, and believe me, we endure together.”

Floods pressure Houston area dams

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it began to release water from the Addicks and Barker dams early Monday morning to prevent uncontrollable flooding of the Houston metropolitan area as water levels continued to rise rapidly beneath torrential rains being released by the tropical storm.

Engineers were forced to start the process earlier than previously announced because water levels in the reservoirs had “increased dramatically in the last few hours,” officials said early Monday, adding that the release would likely cause additional street flooding that could potentially spill into homes.

“If we don’t begin releasing now, the volume of uncontrolled water around the dams will be higher and have a greater impact on the surrounding communities,” Col. Lars Zetterstrom, Galveston District commander, said in a statement Monday.

Meanwhile, officials in Fort Bend County, located about 45 minutes southwest of Houston, issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents near the Brazos River levee districts as the river reached major flood stages late Sunday.

County Judge Robert Herbert, the county’s top elected official, said at a news conference that the National Weather Service predicted that Brazos waters could rise to 59 feet, 3 feet above 2016 records and what Herbert called an “800-year flood level,” according to The Associated Press.

ABC News’ Jessica Hopper, Lindsey Jacobson, Evan Simon and Lana Zak contributed to this report.

 

 

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