HOUSTON — Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said his officers have received 6,000 emergency calls and rescued 2,000 people trapped in cars and homes by flooding in the past day by relentless rain from Tropical Storm Harvey. Houston news outlets are reporting that a family of six died Sunday when their van was swept away by floodwaters.
Their deaths bring the storm's death toll to at least eight so far.
The family was attempting to escape flooding in the Greens Bayou area of Houston, KHOU-TV reported, when their van entered water and was swept off by the current. The driver crawled out and told the children inside to escape through the back door. They could not get it open. The driver survived by hanging onto a tree limb, but the six people inside died. They were a husband and wife, ages 84 and 81, and four great-grandchildren: a 16-year-old girl, 14-year-old boy, 8-year-old boy, and 6-year-old girl.
Authorities offer these urgent reminders to motorists:
- Do not attempt to drive though standing water or moving water.
- The average car can be swept off the road in 12 inches of moving water.
- Roads covered in water can be damaged or collapse.
- Driving through water can stall your engine, and attempting to restart it could ruin it.
- And you could be struck by debris, such as fallen trees, that is carried downstream.
Harvey struck the nation's fourth-biggest metropolitan area as a Category 4 hurricane late Friday and lingers as a tropical storm. It dumped between 15 and 30 inches of rain during the weekend, depending on the location, and several more inches fell on Monday, according to the National Weather Service. The storm is expected to linger in the area for days.
Acevedo, the police chief, said there are about 185 requests outstanding for critical rescues as of Monday afternoon. Emergency services have received about 6,000 calls for emergencies and rescues,of which about 2,000 people were retrieved from flooded homes and cars.
The city has taken in about 5,500 people into emergency shelters, Mayor Sylvester Turner said, and the number is expected to increase "exponentially." He said officials are requesting volunteers and supplies for its emergency efforts. Gov. Greg Abbott mobilized the entire Texas National Guard on Monday to respond to the flooding.
The Army Corp of Engineers is releasing water from reservoirs north and west of the city to relieve pressures on two dams, he said. That flow will add to overflowing bayous that course through Houston to Galveston Bay.
Other items of note from the storm:
OIL PRODUCTION: U.S. crude-oil futures fell on Monday because the storm knocked out several refineries, backing up crude supplies and disrupting fuel production.
GASOLINE: Prices surged to two-year highs because of the idled refineries. Spot prices for U.S. gasoline futures surged 7 percent to a peak of $1.7799 per gallon, before easing to $1.7135.
GULF PRODUCTION: Nearly 19 percent of current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been cut due to Harvey, the U.S. Department of the Interior said. Likewise natural-gas production has been cut by 18 percent.
VEHICLE DEMAND: Texas is a significant vehicle market, particularly for highly profitable pickup trucks built by the big three Detroit automakers. In the short term, the storm will hamper operations at dealers and could dampen August sales. But longer term, "it seems there has been enough flooding to damage thousands of light vehicles that will need replacing," said Nick Colas, an independent analyst based in New York City.
AUTOMAKER SUPPLY CHAINS: It was not clear yet how the storm would affect automakers and other manufacturers that depend on goods flowing to and from northern Mexico. Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said Sunday they had thus far not seen any impact or issues with getting parts across the storm zone but were monitoring the storm closely. The area of Mexico south of the storm zone is a major center for auto parts manufacturing.
INSURANCE: Claims for damage to cars, homes and businesses are estimated to be well below those from the major storms that hit New Orleans and New York in recent years, insurance executives said. Insurers should swallow the claims easily, given that there have been relatively few natural disasters so far this year. Claims for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were $75 billion, and for Sandy in 2012 were $30 billion. An early estimate for Harvey was between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion.
HIGHER RATES AHEAD? The storm will be a factor for an industry struggling to contain prices while sustained low interest rates suppress returns on its investment holdings. Harvey struck only days before senior insurance executives meet in Monte Carlo to haggle over reinsurance renewals against the backdrop of insurance sector complaints that premiums are too low.
A DIRE PREDICTION: A scientist from the world's largest reinsurer predicted that climate change is likely to result in more intense storms in the future. "There are more thunder storms in parts of Europe and the United States than in past decades," said Ernst Rauch, head of Munich Re's Corporate Climate Centre, which monitors climate change risks. "They are more severe. We will not necessarily see an increase in frequency, but we can see an increase in intensity. If we see this, we would have to adjust our risk premium."