Jose Jimenez worked for 43 years to achieve his American dream, leaving Mexico as a young man with nothing to come to Texas, build a career and fund a home, a family and a future.
In a matter of minutes, so much of what he had worked for was lost yesterday as the San Jacinto River, formerly an idyllic backdrop for his home in the woods in Conroe, burst its banks and poured through the community.
“You work so hard, for a lifetime. You come so far. Then, in minutes, you lose everything,” Mr Jimenez, 63, lamented yesterday, soaked and shivering. Fire department boats and divers scoured the floodwater around his neighbourhood, unsure if there were more survivors. Volunteers in boats stood by, frustrated not to be allowed to help. All along what used to be the street leading into the area, the San Jacinto’s waters churned and bubbled, swallowing up homes, trees, road signs and cars.
On the 12th anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, the aftermath of Harvey had left Texas and parts of western Louisiana in a crisis of chillingly similar nature and proportions. “This is Katrina all over again, maybe just without as many deaths,” said Ryan Croft, standing beside a raging creek in Conroe that was so strong that the concrete road had been cut away.
However, a family of six trying to escape the floodwaters has been counted among the victims of the storm, authorities said. The four children and their great-grandparents died on Sunday afternoon when Samuel Saldivar, the driver of the van, tried to pick them up amid the flooding.
As the official death toll rose to 18, firefighters said they found an 18-month-old child clinging to her drowned mother in a canal as she tried to carry her to safety. Others confirmed dead included Steve Perez, a veteran police officer.
Harvey slammed into the Texas coast last Friday night but it has refused to dissipate, moving out into the Gulf of Mexico and back over land three times and delivering record rainfall that has left the city of Houston underwater along with surrounding communities.
The mayor of Houston imposed a curfew between midnight and 5am to prevent the looting of homes. Those seeking shelter were exempted as the curfew began last night.
Kevin Rieathbaum drove from Arkansas to link up with the Cajun Navy, a volunteer force trying to reach those still stranded. Many had heeded advice to shelter when the storm first hit, only to be forced from their homes by torrents of water or lack of food.
“It’s desperate in there, man,” said Mr Rieathbaum. “The fate of so many of these people is in our hands. The authorities are doing what they can but they can’t do it alone.”
Art Acevedo, the Houston police chief, said that his rescue crews had taken 3,400 people to safety. Volunteers have taken hundreds, possibly thousands, more. “They will not stop until this threat ends. Stay strong Houston!” Mr Acevedo urged.
For Mr Jimenez, crunch time came after army engineers made a controlled release of water from the Conroe dam north of Houston, which was in danger of collapse. The water gushed south into creeks and rivers, which flowed into areas that were previously dry.
“We’ve sacrificed a lot for them to release the dam. If they hadn’t, it would have been a major disaster even worse then the one we have,” said Mr Jimenez’s daughter-in-law, Norma.
“It was quick. Inches, then feet. It was rising so fast,” said her husband, Hugo, 43. They gathered up some papers — insurance documents, social security cards — and the children, and left, steering their vehicles through and around water that they said would have come over their heads had they waded. Now they are living in their cars.
“It’s coming up seven inches an hour,” said Steve Brooks, deputy chief of the local Needham fire department, waiting at the water’s edge for his rescue vessels to return from a foray along the street and into the trees. “We’re bringing people out but still some want to stay. If they do, we tell them ‘from this point, you’re on your own’,” he said.
President Trump and his wife, Melania, visited Texas yesterday to thank rescuers but were not visiting the hardest-hit areas. “We are going to get you back and operating immediately,” he told a crowd in Corpus Christi. He is due to return on Saturday.
The Red Cross reported that 17,000 people were in shelters. The authorities in Brazoria county, south of Houston, issued an urgent “get out” alert to residents after the Columbia Lake’s banks south of the city were breached. Rescues also took place in Louisiana.
The deluge has been so unprecedented that the National Weather Service has had to add two colours to the charts that it uses to illustrate rain levels. It previously used a 13-colour scale to indicate the intensity of rainfall recorded in a 24-hour period. Dark purple represented the top level — 15 inches — a record never broken before.
Now, it has added two paler hues of purple to highlight areas that exceeded 30 inches. Yesterday the town of Cedar Bayou set a new continental US record of 51.88 inches of continuous rain since the hurricane struck.
In Cleveland, cowboys rode out to flooded rural properties to rescue livestock for others. In Baytown, fleets of boats shuttled workers from the Chevron oil refinery to dry land. About two million barrels a day of oil have been lost because of refinery closures since the storm hit.
In Houston, the mayor, Sylvester Turner, tried to address concerns that some residents might be refusing to leave their homes because they were undocumented immigrants who feared arrest under Mr Trump’s crackdown on “sanctuary cities” that harbour them.
“If you are in a stressful situation I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what your status is. I don’t want you to run the risk of putting yourself and your family in danger . . . It’s as simple as that. Non-negotiable,” he said.
Houston was expected to avoid the worst of the storm as it made landfall again today, with western Louisiana bearing the brunt.
The recovery from Hurricane Harvey would be long and challenging, Mr Turner said. “We’re not talking about a few days. We’re frankly not talking about a few weeks. We’re talking months.”
Moody’s, the credit rating agency, estimated that the storm could cause up to $65 billion in damage to property and lost economic output.
Butch Wetz left his home in Wharton for a wedding on Friday but never went home because it has been cut off by floods. The same goes for 29 other family members. They now take up the fifth floor of a hotel in Conroe.“There’s that anxiety, that ‘what am I going to find when I get back’ feeling,” he said.
Daniel Uribe’s family group is even bigger, totalling about 50, including two foster children. The 55-year-old father of five, who works for a gas company, lived in a mobile home in Freeport, but does not know if it exists any more.
“We’ll just go back, pick up the pieces, and start again. I wasn’t leaving anything to chance when that storm came — I needed to get out for those kids, keep them safe. Even if I’ve got nothing else left, I’ve got them,” he said.