The storm caused extensive damage in Rockport, Texas
"It sounded like a freight train with square wheels," one resident said
Hurricane Harvey slammed directly into the coastal Texas city of Rockport overnight, knocking down trees and signs, bending utility poles in half like toothpicks, and blowing out the windows of police cars.
At least one person died in a house fire during the storm, Aransas County Judge Burt Mills said, and about a dozen others suffered minor injuries like broken legs.
In addition, a hotel wall fell in, the high school suffered major damage and business and homes suffered “catastrophic damage,” Rockport Mayor Charles Wax said.
“There’s been widespread devastation,” he said.
The storm, which landed as a Category 4 but has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, brought high winds and heavy rains to the area. Further flooding over the next few days could add more considerable damage to the reeling city.
Officials previously anticipated that the storm could prove fatal for those who did not flee.
Ahead of landfall Friday night, Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios delivered some dire advice to residents planning to ride out the storm: write their names and Social Security numbers on their forearms to help first responders should they find a body.
That bleak tip underscored the stakes in Rockport late Friday, when Harvey slammed the city, unleashing a torrent of heavy rain and strong winds.
Wax told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield late Saturday morning that emergency response teams were venturing out to assess the damage.
But the full extent of the destruction is still not known because first responders were themselves hunkered down overnight.
“We haven’t been able to get out and make any kind of assessment of what we’ve got,” Rockport Fire Chief Steve Sims told CNN early Saturday.
Rockport city manager Kevin Carruth told CNN that crews raced to survey the extensive damage during the eye of the hurricane early Saturday. They saw extensive damage downtown in the city, which is home to nearly 10,000 people and sits about 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.
’Sounded like a freight train’
Rockport resident Robert Jackson said riding out the storm was “about the most stressful thing I’ve ever been through.” He said he didn’t sleep at all overnight because the wind “sounded like a freight train with square wheels.”
“This is my last one to ride out, I’ll tell you that,” he said.
About 50 to 60% of residents decided to stay in the city through the storm, officials told CNN. Police received calls of roofs ripped off homes and walls falling on people, officials told CNN, and at least one family was trapped by water.
They managed to rescue about 20 people during a short break in the storm, but otherwise were unable to do extensive rescues overnight.
Chantal Yendiree and her family evacuated inland to Corpus Christi for the storm. They returned to their home in Rockport to find the roof had been ripped off and the inside largely destroyed.
“We lost everything. We need FEMA to help our town,” Yendiree said. “The whole town of Rockport is demolished. My home was just one of the many that was destroyed. We need aid. We need quick aid. This is a disaster.”
Robert Arnold, a reporter for CNN affiliate KPRC, said the station’s news truck nearly tipped over from the high-speed winds. Water and rain were blowing sideways, and were being whipped “into a froth,” he said.
A CNN team reporting from Rockport said that residents asked the crew to use their satellite phones to call loved ones.
Rockport Volunteer Department Asst. Chief Roy Laird estimated that winds reached 140 mph on Friday night.
“It was howling,” he told CNN.
CNN’s Nick Valencia, Amanda Jackson, Kim Hutcherson, Nicole Chavez, Steve Almasy, Doug Criss contributed to this report