HOUSTON - Hurricane Harvey has strengthened as it moves across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, heading toward the coast of Texas.
U.S. meteorologists say Harvey will be a major hurricane by the time it makes landfall late Friday. Peak winds are already clocked at 177 kph, just shy of the level needed to qualify as a Category-3 storm.
Winds are expected to surpass 200 kph when the hurricane hits a 600-kilometer-wide swath of coastline.
The head of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday warned of a “very significant disaster” about to hit Texas.
Some ignore warnings
FEMA Director Brock Long, speaking on CNN, said his biggest concern was that some citizens along the coastline ignored warnings from officials and have chosen not to evacuate their homes.
"If they have not, their window to evacuate is rapidly coming to a close," Long said. "Storm surge has the highest potential to kill the most amount of people and cause the most of damage. On top of that, we are looking at a significant inland flood event over many counties.”
Long, along with acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, briefed President Donald Trump this morning on preparations for the storm. Trump said on Twitter he is "closely monitoring" the storm and he spoke with the governors of Texas and Lousiana to ensure them the federal government is there to assist as needed.
Hurricanes usually weaken rapidly once they move inland, but forecasters say this storm will follow an unusual pattern -- stalling once it hits the coast, then probably moving back out to sea briefly and making a second drenching pass at low-lying coastal communities.
Harvey is expected to pour nearly 100 centimeters of rain over a wide area of the Texas coast during the next three days.
'Life threatening floods' expected
The National Hurricane Center said “life-threatening” floods should be expected, along with storm surges of more than three meters. It said any preparations for the storm not already in place “should be rushed to completion.”
Texans who live on the Gulf Coast have prepared for the storm with stacks of sandbags around particularly flood-prone areas. Residents crowded stores to buy water and other supplies to sustain them during what could be days of turmoil.
The last hurricane to hit the southern portion of the Texas coast was 14 years ago. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered state emergency workers to mobilize for any necessary search-and-rescue operations.
He has preemptively declared a state of disaster in 30 counties on or near the coast to speed deployment of state resources.