While federal officials said they are expecting a multi-year recovery in Texas and across the south as Tropical Storm Harvey continues its course east into parts of Louisiana, the death toll rose to 20 people, sheriff’s said Wednesday.
Montgomery County Sheriff’s Capt. Bryan Carlisle said two more Harvey–related deaths were reported north of Houston. One of them around a barricade and into standing water on Monday, while the other tried to swim across a flooded road, he said.
Authorities expect the death toll to rise as the waters receded and they are able to take full stock of the death and destruction wrought by the catastrophic storm.
Gov. Greg Abbott said urged residents to not drive into flooded waters, cautioning that the “worst is not yet over.”
“It is imperative that we do everything possible to protect the lives and safety of people across the state of Texas as we continue to face the aftermath of this storm,” he said.
He said the Texas National Guard has activated 14,000 in addition to 10,000 troops from other states to help in the ongoing recovery efforts throughout the state.
Earlier on Wednesday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said Wednesday federal government agencies would help those affected for as long as needed.
“We expect a many-year recovery in Texas and the federal government is in this for the long haul,” Duke said. “We will help the people of Texas for as long as they need.”
She added: “This particular storm was unprecedented in terms of volume, of rain, and that’s what we’re focusing on now.”
Duke said while officials were monitoring the situation in Louisiana, the focus remained on the greater Houston area, which saw more than 50 inches of rain after Harvey made landfall Saturday.
“Catastrophic flooding is likely to persist days after the rain stops,” she added.
With at least 13,000 rescued in the Houston area and surrounding cities and counties, more people were still trying to escape from their inundated homes.
FEMA administrator Brock Long said more than 230 shelters are operating in Texas, housing more than 30,000 people.
“We’re also calling on other states through emergency management assistance compacts,” he said. “We’re still in lifesaving, life sustaining mode.”
He added: “Shelters are obviously not ideal and unfortunately people are going to be there for quite some time.”
Harvey’s floodwaters began to drop across much of the Houston area, emergency officials said Wednesday, offering a glimmer of hope to the storm’s victims.
“The water levels are going down. And that’s for the first time in several days,” said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District.
However, some neighborhood were still in danger as a levee along Cypress Creek in the northern part of the country could fail and swamp a subdivision where some residents ignored a mandatory evacuation order.
The water in two reservoirs that protect downtown Houston from flooding was likely to crest Wednesday at levels slightly below those that were forecast, officials said.
Meanwhile, the Texas community of Port Arthur found itself increasingly isolated Wednesday as Harvey’s rains flooded most major roads out of the city and swamped a shelter for victims fleeing the storm that ravaged the Houston area.
The crisis deepened in the coastal city after Harvey rolled ashore overnight for the second time in six days, this time hitting southwestern Louisiana on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katerina.
The city’s mayor, Derrick Freeman, urged residents to get to higher ground and to avoid becoming trapped in attics.
“The city is underwater right now but we are coming!” he wrote on Facebook.
In Louisiana, forecasters warned of potential tornadoes forming in northeast part of the state and across southern and central portions of Mississippi.
Louisiana Gov. John Edwards told “Fox & Friends” Wednesday morning the “worst case scenario has not happened” and officials were hopeful they would get through the next 24 hours without much damage.
“We need to get this storm moving, get it overland and let it dissipate,” he said. “Thus far, things are not going as we had feared.”
Before it breaks up, Harvey could creep as far east as Mississippi by Thursday, meaning New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina unleashed its full wrath in 2005, is in Harvey’s path.
Foreboding images of Harvey lit up weather radar screens Tuesday on the 12th anniversary of the day Katrina made landfall in Plaquemines Parish.
Despite more than a decade between major storms, New Orleans is still suffering from a malfunctioning pump system, and the city was working around-the-clock to make repairs. Earlier this month, New Orleans’ pump system failed after fewer than 10 inches of rain fell.
Harvey hit Texas as a Category 4 storm late Friday night packing 130 mph winds. It made a second landfall about three hours later before it was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane. After the winds dropped below 73 mph, it was downgraded to a tropical storm.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.