HOUSTON — Search-and-rescue boats, high-water vehicles and even jet skis patrolled flood-swollen streets and a levee south of Houston breached Tuesday as Tropical Storm Harvey continued its easterly trudge toward Louisiana.
Officials anxiously monitored rising river levels swelled days of relentless rain. Authorities in Brazoria County announced a levee breach at Columbia Lakes.
"GET OUT NOW!!" the county tweeted.
The Brazos River at Richmond, about 30 miles south of Houston, measured nearly 52 feet Tuesday morning and was expected to crest at 59 feet by Thursday — four feet greater than the record high set last year.
“The threat is now moving from rain to river,” KPRC-TV meteorologist Britta Merwin said.
State and local emergency responders, the Coast Guard and brave volunteers conducted more than 3,000 boat and air rescues, and the number continued to climb. The state's entire National Guard force was activated, deploying about 12,000 guardsmen to flooded communities.
The shelter set up at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston swelled with more than 9,000 evacuees — nearly double its planned capacity. Still, no one was being turned away from shelters in the region.
"Last night in Texas, 17,000+ people sought refuge in shelters," the American Red Cross tweeted Tuesday. "We're providing safety & comfort to rescued families."
Outside help continued streaming into Houston. Search-and-rescue crews from Florida, California, Utah and other areas staged at different trouble spots around town. Walmart was shipping 2,000 kayaks to the area to help stranded residents.
Across much of the city, Harris county and southeast Texas, the waters rose to new heights, plunging the greater Houston area and more than 6 million residents into uncharted chaos.
Dramatic images show rescues across Houston
The confirmed death toll stood at three on Tuesday, but unconfirmed reports signaled a much higher total.
“We know in these kind of events that, sadly, the death toll goes up historically,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said. “I’m really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find" when the water recedes.
President Trump was headed to Texas on Tuesday, planning to visit Corpus Christi and Austin.
The storm remained adrift over the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, already having dumped more than 40 inches of rain in parts of Houston. The storm is expected to dump an additional 7 to 13 inches of rain through Friday over the upper Texas coast and into southwestern Louisiana.
Evacuees described turmoil, uncertainty — and relief to have survived.
Surrounded by people taking a smoking break outside the convention center Monday night, Danielle Brown hugged her boyfriend, Lorenzo Harps. They arrived Sunday night after being rescued by boat from a ground-level Houston-area apartment.
They awoke about 11 p.m. Saturday amid water a few inches deep.
“Everything was already flooded,” Brown said late Monday, huddled beneath a relatively dry overhang as rain poured down. “It was about to our feet, and it just kept rising. We had to move to the top floor, to a neighbor.”
Before moving up, they tried putting electronics, clothes and keepsakes on counters and shelves. The water climbed to 3 feet within hours, and rescuers evacuated them by boat the next day.
“They were strictly business,” Harps said of the rescuers’ efforts.
Now, the couple is stranded at the shelter. They shared a phone, which fell in the water during the chaos — something they can only laugh about now. Brown’s recently purchased Saturn sedan was destroyed.
The wrath of Harvey is Brown’s first brush with a tropical storm or hurricane. And she had one message to the untold numbers of residents experiencing a similar crisis as rescue efforts intensify.
“Be prepared. Be cautious,” she said. “Grab only what you need. Grab your life.”
Other communities helped in other ways.
In Brevard County, Fla., where residents experienced fear after last year's Hurricane Matthew approached their area before veering east, government officials issued a directive allowing employees to get paid leave to help with Harvey relief efforts.
County employees with special skill sets that would help in a serious disaster may take off work as long as serious needs persist, according to the directive.
Contributing: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press