The scenes from Houston were harrowing Sunday.
Residents forging their way through furious floodwaters waist- and chest-deep in some parts of the city, many gripping plastic trash bags stuffed with their belongings. Trucks pushing through inundated streets as cars and other parked vehicles quickly were becoming submerged.
Families urgently piling into canoes, rafts and anything inflatable to get to higher ground.
The deluge from Tropical Storm Harvey was so intense that authorities were urging residents to seek refuge on roofs as emergency crews struggled to make their way through the city by land, water and air amid desperate pleas for help.
Interstate 610, a freeway forming a 38-mile long loop around downtown Houston, was engulfed in floodwaters that were creeping closer to overhead highway signs — another sign of how dire the situation was becoming.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said authorities had received more than 2,000 calls for help and would be opening the city’s main convention center as a shelter.
"I don’t need to tell anyone this is a very, very serious and unprecedented storm,” Turner said at a news conference. “We have several hundred structural flooding reports. We expect that number to rise pretty dramatically.”
Residents were being told to stay on roofs instead of climbing into attics — and to wave towels or sheets to flag down rescuers.
As people fled to rooftops, the scene was strikingly similar to another epic flooding event: 2005's Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
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Amid the horror, there were reports of heroics.
Father David Bergeron, a Catholic priest, used a kayak to get from his home in southeast Houston to higher ground where he hoped to say Mass for those stranded on the streets. Bergeron said he tried to buy some wine for Mass at a convenience store but couldn’t because sales are prohibited in the state on Sunday before noon.
"This is how America was evangelized — by canoe,” he told TV station KTRK.
KPRC2 broadcast video of dozens of Houston residents wading through an inundated street in East Houston, some in rubber boats, many helping others through the torrents. The station captioned the scene: "Good Samaritans Help Flood Victims."
Jesse Gonzalez, and his son, also named Jesse, used their boat to rescue people from a southeast Houston neighborhood. Asked what he had seen, the younger Gonzalez told TV station KTRK: “A lot of people walking and a lot of dogs swimming.”
Harris County sheriff’s spokesman Jason Spencer said flooding throughout the county that includes Houston was so widespread that it’s “difficult to pinpoint the worst area.”
Spencer said the department has high-water vehicles and airboats but “certainly not enough.” He says authorities are prioritizing hundreds of phones calls for help to ensure life-and-death situations were at the top of the list.
The situation was “heartbreaking,” he said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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