Harvey regains tropical storm strength in Gulf of Mexico

Leo Sermiento, left, and Emilio Gutierrez, right, fill sandbags in preparation of a tropical system on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, on South Padre Island, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the State Operations Center to elevate its readiness level and is making state resources available for preparation and possible rescue and recovery actions amid forecasts a tropical storm will make landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast. (Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Long lines extended from grocery stores along the Texas Gulf Coast early Thursday as residents braced for a slow-moving tropical storm that forecasters say could drop as much as 20 inches of rain.

A hurricane warning was issued for most of the central and southern Texas coast Thursday morning, from Port Mansfield to Matagorda, as Tropical Storm Harvey regained strength while drifting into the Gulf of Mexico. The storm is expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday.

“Harvey is looking like it’s going to just meander around the area,” National Weather Service meteorologist Penny Zabel said Thursday. “It’s going to hang out for a few days, and that’s why we’re looking at such high rainfall amounts.”

Zabel noted that it’s been 14 years since a hurricane made landfall along the state’s southern coast. She said 10 to 15 inches of rain could fall from Friday through Tuesday, with higher amounts in some areas.

In Corpus Christi, dozens of people waited in line at a Sam’s Club on Thursday. The city and other communities along the coast were shipping in sandbags, extra water and other items.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds have increased to near 60 mph (95 kph). The U.S. National HurricaneCenter said additional strengthening was expected and Harvey could become a hurricane by Friday, when it’s expected to approach the southern Texas coast.

As of Thursday morning, the storm was centered about 335 miles (540 kilometers) southeast of Port Mansfield and was moving north-northwest near 10 mph (17 kph).

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the State Operations Center to elevate its readiness level, making state resources available for possible rescue and recovery actions. Abbott also pre-emptively declared a state of disaster for 30 counties on or near the coast, to speed deployment of state resources to any areas affected.

Emergency officials on Wednesday asked residents along the upper Texas coastline to move or prepare to move inland. Those in low-lying areas were urged to seek higher ground, and those elsewhere were told to monitor official announcements closely.

On South Padre Island, people filled sandbags and loaded them into cars and vans Wednesday to take to protect exposed homes and businesses. Others in the forecast path of the storm sought out generators, plywood and other goods from hardware stores. Meanwhile, rice farmers in coastal Matagorda County moved quickly to harvest their crops.

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