Texas prepares as Harvey grinds toward gulf coast

AP Photo JAMES REDFORD HELPS board up windows Thursday in preparation for Hurricane Harvey arriving in Corpus Christi, Texas. Two counties have ordered mandatory evacuations as Hurricane Harvey gathers strength as it drifts toward the Texas Gulf Coast.

HOUSTON (AP) — Hurricane Harvey intensified as it steered toward the Texas coast on Friday, with forecasters saying it had strengthened to a Category 2 storm with the potential to swamp communities more than 100 miles inland.

The slow-moving hurricane could be the fiercest such storm to hit the United States in almost a dozen years. Forecasters labeled Harvey a “life-threatening storm” that posed a “grave risk” as millions of people braced for a prolonged battering.

The storm has the potential to produce winds hitting 125 mph and storm surges of 12 feet.

Landfall was predicted for late Friday or early Saturday along the central Texas coast, between Port O’Connor and Matagorda Bay. The stretch of coastline spans about 30 miles roughly 70 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.

“We’re forecasting continuing intensification right up until landfall,” National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

Harvey grew quickly Thursday from a tropical depression into a Category 1 hurricane. Early Friday, the National Hurricane Center reported it had become a Category 2 hurricane.

Fueled by warm Gulf of Mexico waters, the storm was projected to become a major Category 3 hurricane before it makes landfall. The last storm of that category to hit the U.S. was Hurricane Wilma in October 2005 in Florida.

Superstorm Sandy, which pummeled New York and New Jersey in 2012, never had the high winds and had lost tropical status by the time it struck. But it was devastating without formally being called a major hurricane.

All seven Texas counties on the coast from Corpus Christi to the western end of Galveston Island have ordered mandatory evacuations of tens of thousands of residents from all low-lying areas. In four of those counties, officials ordered their entire county evacuated and warned those who stayed behind that no one could be guaranteed rescue.

Voluntary evacuations have been urged for Corpus Christi itself and for the Bolivar Peninsula, a sand spit near Galveston where many homes were washed away by the storm surge of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Texas officials expressed concern that not as many people are evacuating compared with previous storms.

“A lot of people are taking this storm for granted thinking it may not pose much of a danger to them,” Gov. Greg Abbott told Houston television station KPRC. “Please heed warnings and evacuate as soon as possible.”

Abbott has activated about 700 members of the state National Guard ahead of Hurricane Harvey making landfall.

As of 4 a.m. CDT Friday, Harvey was centered about 180 miles southeast of Corpus Christi and was moving northwest near 9 mph with maximum sustained winds near 105 mph.

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