AT LEAST nine people have died and thousands more are still stranded after a hurricane ripped through Texas.
Heavy rain began falling over the weekend, causing life-threatening flash floods in Houston, a notoriously high flood-risk area, and the worst affected by the natural disaster, as roads were swallowed and vehicles swept away.
The hurricane-turned-Tropical storm, named Harvey, swept through Harris county, gaining momentum before heading further inland towards the Texas/Louisiana border, on Tuesday. More than 30 inches of rain have fallen in some counties in the past three days with more rain expected until Friday, across the Gulf Coast.
A state of disaster has since been declared in 54 counties in the region, including Aransas County, where the hurricane hit, on Sunday.
Among the reported fatalities were a family of six, thought to have been swept away by floodwater in their van east of Houston, and a man who attempted to swim through flooding on Monday night.
It was reported on Tuesday that two major reservoirs had been released by the US military earlier than planned to protect central Houston — but at the risk of flooding thousands more homes.
The Bishop of Texas, the Rt Revd Andrew Doyle, thanked people who were praying in a time of “disaster and fear”. He wrote on the diocesan website: “We have been in touch with many people and know that the disaster stretches across the whole southern part of our diocese. We expect the area to grow as the slow moving storm progresses across the state.
“We are following the guidance of our officials and hunkering down in order to remain safe while they focus on those in the most immediate danger. Please pray for many clergy and laity who have water in their home. Pray also for those who need rescuing and are even now being rescued. We have a number of first responders and they also need our prayers as they are leaving loved ones to help with rescue operations.”
The Rector of St Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston — which was forced to close on Tuesday — the Revd Dr Russell Jones Levenson, Jr, wrote in a statement on its website: “The devastation brought by Harvey is extraordinary. So many in our state and city have now been impacted, as have many, many of our members.”
Its clergy, outreach staff, and the Hope and Healing Centre, a mental-health resource for the community, were preparing to serve those affected, he wrote. “My friends — my brothers and sisters — let us pray for one another. We will have many opportunities to serve one another in the days and months ahead.”
The Church of the Holy Trinity, in the centre of Houston, would be continuing morning and evening prayers through the duration of the storm, a statement on its Facebook page stated. It also posted a prayer for fair weather: “Most merciful Father, we humbly beseech thee, of thy great goodness, to restrain those immoderate rains, wherewith thou hast afflicted us; and we pray thee to send us such seasonable weather, that the earth may, in due time, yield her increase, for our use and benefit. . .”
Pastor Joel Osteen, whose father founded Lakewood Church, Houston, in the 1950s, thought to be the largest church in the city (having been the former home ground of the basketball team Houston Rockets), has denied that he had closed the building due to the floods, on Tuesday.
A post on its Facebook page on Monday which stated that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding” and pointed to “safe shelters” elsewhere in the city, was heavily criticised on social media. But a church spokesperson later said in a statement that the water levels in the church had receded.
“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need. We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives.”