By MICHAEL GRACZYK and DAVID PHILLIP
HOUSTON — Crews overwhelmed by thousands of rescue calls during one of the heaviest downpours in U.S. history have had little time to search for other potential victims, but officials acknowledge the grim reality that fatalities linked to Harvey could soar once the devastating floodwaters recede from one of America’s most sprawling metropolitan centers.
More than three days after the storm ravaged the Texas coastline as a Category 4 hurricane, authorities had confirmed only three deaths — including a woman killed Monday when heavy rains dislodged a large oak tree onto her trailer home in the small town of Porter. But unconfirmed reports of others missing or presumed dead were growing.
“We know in these kind of events that, sadly, the death toll goes up historically,” Houston police Chief Art Acevedo told The Associated Press. “I’m really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find.”
One Houston woman said Monday that she presumes six members of a family, including four of her grandchildren, died after their van sank into Greens Bayou in East Houston, though Houston emergency officials couldn’t confirm the deaths. Virginia Saldivar told The Associated Press her brother-in-law was driving the van Sunday when a strong current took the vehicle over a bridge and into the bayou. The driver was able to get out and urged the children to escape through the back door, Saldivar said, but they could not.
“I’m just hoping we find the bodies,” Saldivar said.
And a spokeswoman for a Houston hotel says one of its employees disappeared while helping about 100 guests and workers evacuate the building amid rising floodwaters.
The disaster is unfolding on an epic scale, with the nation’s fourth-largest city mostly paralyzed by the storm that has parked itself over the Gulf Coast. With nearly 2 more feet of rain expected on top of the 30-plus inches in some places, authorities worried the worst might be yet to come.
Early Tuesday, Harvey’s relentless downpour continued to drench Houston and the surrounding area. Rain fell at a pace of about half an inch per hour over Harris County — home to Houston — and up to 2 inches per hour to the east.
The Houston metro area covers about 10,000 square miles, an area slightly bigger than New Jersey. It’s crisscrossed by about 1,700 miles of channels, creeks and bayous that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles to the southeast from downtown.