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In Harvey's Wake

Ahead of Hurricane Harvey, officials send Texans mixed messages on evacuations

In the hours before Hurricane Harvey hits Texas, some local leaders told residents to flee their homes, while others urged them to stay in place and wait out the storm.

Ramiro Jimenez (left), Kevin Murphy (in baseball cap) and Gary Acuna (with drill) board up Tease Salon, which Murphy owns, ahead of Hurricane Harvey on Friday morning, Aug. 25, 2017. 

In Harvey's Wake

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CORPUS CHRISTI — Hurricane Harvey will reach Texas land overnight, but that is likely to be just the beginning of the powerful storm’s wrath.

Some southern Texans were told to stay in place. Others were ordered to evacuate. All were warned to prepare for catastrophic flooding and power outages that could last up to seven days.

As winds whipped the nearby beach in this coastal city Friday morning, Kevin Murphy and two friends were virtually alone on the city streets as they boarded up the salon he owns.

“It floods downtown easily,” Gary Acuna said after he used a power drill to screw in boards over the windows of Tease Salon.

Nueces County officials soon after told residents that they’d missed their window to leave and warned them to stay indoors and wait out the storm. Because Harvey is expected to linger over southern Texas, wind and rain are expected to wreak havoc for days.

“This storm is not going to play out over night,” Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal said at a Friday afternoon news conference.

He said people could be without power for days.

“Fry those weiners today and eat them for three days,” he said.

Residents in Corpus Christi and the rest of Nueces County were not given mandatory evacuation orders, though those living in low-lying areas were encouraged to leave. But people living in several cities and counties farther east along the coast had already been ordered to leave by Friday evening. That included a large swath of the state where Harvey is expected to reach land. Because so many Texans in the mid-coastal region were expected to be fleeing the storm, officials on the eastern coast urged their residents to remain in place to prevent nightmarish logjams on state highways.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told people living in the state’s largest city not to leave, citing “chaotic” traffic from the 2005 evacuations ahead of Hurricane Rita.

“Please think twice before trying to leave Houston en masse,” Turner said through Twitter Friday afternoon. “No evacuation orders have been issued.”

His city is among those expected to be inundated with rain for days. Houston is already infamous for being home to deadly floods in recent years and is not prepared for a major hurricane, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica reported last year.

Turner’s advice contradicted that of Gov. Greg Abbott.

Asked at a news conference in Austin if he could put pressure on local leaders to encourage more evacuations, the governor said: "I can be suggestive of what I would do, and that is, if I were living in the Houston region, as I once did, I would decide to head to areas north of there."

Still, Abbott stressed that whether to call for mandatory evacuations was a decision best left to local leaders, who he said can make better judgments for their areas.

"I would urge everybody who has the possibility to consider evacuating as soon as possible," the governor said.

The governor briefed reporters after a statewide emergency preparedness call with Texas officials. The state has 41,000 shelter beds available for evacuees and more than 200 buses available to transport Texans out of coastal areas such as Corpus Christi, where storm surge and flooding are expected to pose the greatest risks. Texas state parks are also available for evacuees to stay at no cost.

"We are going to be dealing with immense, really record-setting flooding," Abbott said.

Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb defended the decision to stop short of making the evacuation order in his city mandatory. At a news conference, McComb said officials had a lot of discussion about the matter. He said he was “just the messenger,” then immediately conceded that the decision was up to him and Neal, the county judge. He said the decision was made “based on the information we were given.”

“And I think time will prove us right,” he said. “I hope it does.”

Murphy, the salon owner, said he plans to wait out the storm this weekend with the friends who helped him board up his business earlier in the day. They have plenty of food and a power generator.

“Very little water, but we got plenty of alcohol,” Murphy’s friend Acuna said.

But, of course, there is some anxiety about what the next several days will bring.

“Maybe a little,” Murphy said with a sheepish smile from the passenger seat of a pickup truck outside his salon.

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