TEXAS — As heavy rain and gusty winds move in over Texas, coastal residents are deciding whether to flee their homes or to stay put and brace for a potentially life-threatening hurricane.
Hurricane Harvey is “dangerously approaching the Texas Coast” Friday and is expected to bring as many as 35 inches of rainfall, destructive waves and flood waters that could reach heights of 6-12 feet above ground level along the state’s coast, the National Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters say Harvey is on track to become a Category 3 hurricane with winds of at least 111 mph by the time it hits the middle Texas coast later Friday or early Saturday.
After hitting Corpus Christi, the storm is expected to stall over the state, forecasters say.
— Harvey strengthened early Friday, becoming a Category 2 hurricane with winds up to 105 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
— Isolated tornadoes are possible across portions of the middle and upper Texas coast on Friday, the service said.
— Texas Governor Greg Abbott has requested 700 National Guard members to be activated.
— The Ports of Corpus Christi and Galveston are closed.
— Three Galveston-based cruise ships in the Gulf of Mexico diverted to safer water.
‘I’m trying to be strong’
The threat of Harvey became evident Thursday when several counties on the Texas coast issued evacuation orders and an exodus of residents began.
Drivers sat bumper-to-bumper with highways backed up for miles.
Rose Yepez told CNN it took her twice as long as normal to drive from Corpus Christi to San Antonio. Yepez, who was traveling to the Texas Hill Country, said traffic was constantly slowing down and coming to a stop during the 140-mile drive.
A mix of cars and city buses taking groups of adults and children carrying backpacks with their belongings jammed the roads for hours.
“I’m shaking inside, but for them, I’m trying to be strong,” a Corpus Christi woman who was waiting with her two daughters to board a bus out of the city told CNN affiliate KRIS.
Ambulances stayed busy overnight while ten critically ill babies were evacuated from a Corpus Christi hospital, the Cook Children’s Hospital in Forth Worth said in a statement.
The babies boarded several medical flights to North Texas ahead of the storm, officials said.
Workers at 39 offshore petroleum production platforms and an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico were also evacuated Thursday, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.
But first responders like Brittany Fowler have no other option than to stay behind and wait for the storm.
“Hopefully it doesn’t do any damage but if it does we’ve prepared,” Fowler, a firefighter in Corpus Christi, wrote on Instagram.
Her family helped by boarding up windows and doors at her home. She bought plenty of water, food and a small power generator.
Unlike Fowler, Corey Davis was free to go but opted to stay, even as Harvey’s winds started blowing Thursday night. Instead of packing, she and her family were climbing up a tall latter on the side of their Port O’Connor home securing plywood over windows.
“I’m scared so I’m doing everything that I can to protect (this) little place down here…” Davis told CNN affiliate KTRK. “And hope and pray for the best.”