CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Hurricane Harvey, churning up into a Category 4 storm on its collision course with the coast early Saturday, is the first hurricane to strike the United States in 12 years — and the first natural disaster to test the mettle of the Trump administration.
Forecasters and government officials warned of a full-blown hurricane calamity, with catastrophic flooding, ferocious winds and a storm surge of up to 12 feet.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott urged citizens Friday afternoon to immediately evacuate low-lying and coastal areas, and sent a written request to President Donald Trump asking him to declare a major disaster.
“The storm surge, coupled with the deluge of rain, could easily lead to billions of dollars of property damage and almost certainly loss of life,” Abbott wrote.
White House officials said Friday the declaration is under consideration and that Trump is contemplating visiting Texas early next week.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican from Iowa, gave the president a warning via Twitter: “keep on top of hurricane Harvey dont mke same mistake Pres Bush made w Katrina.”
Texas’s Gulf Coast is home to as much as half of the nation’s oil refining capacity, and a massive network of pipelines that carry oil and gas to the rest of the country.
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The storm threatens to push up gas prices nationwide, and may generate $1.9 billion of economic losses and $1.3 billion in insured losses, a Boomberg Intelligence analysis shows.
Here in Corpus Christi, city and county officials said they are ready for the worst.
“Game on,” said Mayor Joe McComb at a news conference.
But many residents were nervous.
In nearby Aransas Pass, 66-year-old Mike Taylor said he was resigned to riding out the storm in his one-story house just a few blocks from the water. As part of routine hurricane preparations, the town maintains a list of residents who need help in leaving. Taylor, who does not own a car and lives with his disabled 40-year-old son, said he thought he was on the list. But no one came.
“Now, I am just out trying to find some groceries,” said Taylor, who was trudging along Route 35 in a raincoat, even though all the grocery and convenience stores appeared closed.
Several hundred miles of the Texas Gulf Coast were under hurricane and storm-surge warnings. Harvey is expected to stall over the coast and could even drift back out over open water, drawing fresh energy from the hot gulf waters before meandering ashore again closer to Galveston.
That scenario would deliver historic amounts of rain to the region, with some models showing accumulations in feet rather than inches. Flooding is likely in and around Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
The Texas Military Department deployed about 700 members of the State Guard and National Guard around the coastal region Friday.
The American Red Cross mobilized staffers from across the country. Paul Carden Jr., a regional disaster officer, said in Corpus Christi that residents are foolish if they don’t evacuate.
“A hurricane in its own right is bad, but a hurricane with five to seven days worth of rain over the same area, I know it’s going to be a significant disaster,” he said. “This is your life. This is your family’s life. This is not a time to gamble with both.”
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A steady and orderly stream of traffic flowed out of Corpus Christi, heading for higher ground. But many thousands have decided to ride out the storm.
Trump said on Twitter he was following the storm from the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, and the White House said he spoke with the governors of Texas and Louisiana and took briefings from emergency experts.
“His questions aren’t about the geopolitical issues or about large political consequences,” Tom Bossert, the White House Homeland Security adviser, told a news conference. “His questions are: ‘Are you doing what it takes to help the people that are going to be affected by this storm?’”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had sent more than 96,000 liters of water, 306,000 meals and 4,500 tarps to support bases in Texas and Louisiana with additional supplies being readied.
Major storms like this have posed challenges to previous presidents.
The flawed response to Hurricane Katrina, which killed over 1,000 people and wrecked parts of New Orleans in 2005, tainted the remainder of George W. Bush’s presidency.
“Strange as it may seem at this time of instant communication and the 24-hour news cycle, Bush didn’t pay attention to the biggest news story of the moment because he was on vacation and allowed himself to get isolated from the country,” wrote U.S. News & World Report in a 2015 report called “The Undoing of George W. Bush.”
The Trump administration earlier this year proposed cutting billions of dollars in funding for FEMA, and it has not yet filled key posts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, both of which closely track major weather events and coordinate with other government agencies.
But Congress has mostly rejected the proposed cuts to FEMA, and the agency is led by Brock Long, who has experience in disaster management and was overwhelmingly confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The Washington Post and Reuters contributed to this report.