Damaging Hurricane Harvey settles in over southeast Texas

 (AP) — Hurricane Harvey settled over southeast Texas early Saturday, lashing the state’s Gulf Coast with damaging winds and dumping torrents of rain over hundreds of miles of coastline that braced for what forecasters predicted would be life-threatening storm surges — basically walls of water moving inland.

The fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade made landfall the previous night about 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi as a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds. It gradually weakened over the next several hours and the National Hurricane Center said that by 3 a.m. Harvey was back to a Category 2 — still sustaining winds of 110 mph.

Harvey’s approach sent tens of thousands of residents fleeing inland, hoping to escape the wrath of a menacing storm that threatens not only the coast but a wide swath of Texas that is home to oil refineries, chemical plants and dangerously flood-prone Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.

No deaths were immediately confirmed in the hours after Harvey’s arrival, but officials noted emergency crews couldn’t get out in many places due to high winds. Melissa Munguia, deputy emergency management coordinator in Nueces County, which includes Corpus Christi, said early Saturday that it could be hours before crews could fully assess the damage in coastal communities.

Early reports did begin to emerge from Rockport, a coastal city of about 10,000 people that was directly in Harvey’s path when it came ashore. Officials confirmed that the roof of Rockport’s high school had partially caved in and that the community’s historic downtown saw extensive damage.

Harvey came ashore as the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in 13 years and the strongest to strike Texas since 1961’s Hurricane Carla, the most powerful Texas hurricane on record.

A worst case scenario is that the hurricane could hug the coast for days and stay strong enough to be a tropical storm through Wednesday at least. During this meandering time, the storm will likely dump 2 feet to 3 feet of rain, often on areas that don’t handle much smaller rainfall amounts well.

It may also spawn tornadoes. Even after weakening, the system might spin out into the Gulf and regain strength before hitting Houston a second time Wednesday as a tropical storm, forecasters said.

All seven Texas counties on the coast from Corpus Christi to the western end of Galveston Island ordered mandatory evacuations from low-lying areas. Four counties ordered full evacuations and warned there was no guarantee of rescue for people staying behind.

State officials said they had no count on how many people actually left their homes.

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Associated Press writers Michael Graczyk, Juan Lozano and Nomaan Merchant in Houston; Seth Borenstein and Catherine Lucey in Washington; and Diana Heidgerd, Jamie Stengle, David Warren, Claudia Lauer and Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed to this report.

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