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Hurricane Harvey Grows To Category 3 Storm As It Closes In On Texas Coast

Motorists in Corpus Christi, Texas, pass a warning sign as Hurricane Harvey approaches the Gulf Coast area on Friday.

Updated at 3:10 p.m. ET

Hurricane Harvey, on track to hit the Texas coast late Friday or early Saturday, has been upgraded to a Category 3 storm, with sustained winds close to 120 mph. Forecasters say the storm surge, coupled with tremendous rainfall, threatens to cause significant flooding along much of the state's coastline.

Harvey will be the first major hurricane to hit the U.S. in a dozen years when it makes landfall, likely north of Corpus Christi, Texas, according to the National Hurricane Center.

By 3 p.m. ET, it was located about 75 miles east of Corpus Christi and was moving northwest at about 10 mph.

However, Dave Roberts, a hurricane specialist with the NHC in Florida, tells NPR that "as it moves close to the coast later tonight and early Saturday, we should have landfall about that time and as it starts to move further inland, we should see the system begin to slow in forward motion and meander."

When Harvey stalls out, as forecast, it could dump up to 3 feet of rain in some parts of Texas, coupled with up to a 12-foot storm surge. The Hurricane Center has issued a storm surge warning for a more-than-400-mile stretch of coastline from Port Mansfield to High Island.

By early Friday afternoon, a wind gust of 57 mph was reported at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, with sustained winds of 49 mph and a gust of 60 mph near Port Aransas, according to NOAA.

Member station KUT in Austin reports that coastal residents are bracing for "forecasted rain totals of 10 to 20 inches east of I-35 and totals as high as 25 inches in areas south of I-10 through Tuesday."

Ed Rappaport of the National Hurricane Center says Harvey poses a "significant risk of life-threatening flooding." He advises residents in coastal areas to move inland.

"It may save your life," Rappaport says.

Evacuation orders have been issued for several counties north of Corpus Christi, nearest the area where the hurricane is expected to make landfall. The cities of Portland, Rockport, Port Aransas, Aransas Pass, Ingleside and Robstown have also been ordered to evacuate, as well as all residents of Brazoria County who live on the Gulf side of the Intracoastal Canal, according to The Weather Channel. The Galveston County Daily News reports that the West End of Galveston Island, Jamaica Beach, the Bolivar Peninsula and the city of Dickinson are under a voluntary evacuation.

In an interview with ABC News' Good Morning America, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long expressed fear "that people may not be taking this storm seriously."

"That window to evacuate is coming to a close," Long said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, fielding questions Thursday about federal preparations for Hurricane Harvey, said President Trump was keeping "a very watchful eye" on developments and was planning to travel to Texas early next week. Sanders also said that acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke was "watching this closely."

"I think we're in great shape having Gen. [John] Kelly sitting next to the president throughout this process," she said, referring to the White House chief of staff and former secretary of homeland security.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a pre-emptive state of emergency in some 30 counties encompassing the entire coast in an effort to speed up deployment of resources to the affected areas.

According to the NHC, with a Category 3 storm: "Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes."

Harvey rapidly moved up the Saffir-Simpson scale beginning Thursday, strengthening from a tropical depression to a Category 1 hurricane. By early Friday, its winds had reached 110 mph, placing it at the top end of Category 2 status.

"We're forecasting continuing intensification right up until landfall," National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

In Houston, Jeff Lindner, with the Harris County Flood Control District, said Harvey could prove a "historic rainfall event."

"We are hurricane tested here in this state. This is going to be different," Lindner was quoted by Houston Public Media as saying. "This is going to be a hurricane that comes in strong to the mid-Texas coast, and then we're still dealing with it next Monday and Tuesday."

The NHC warns that the deepest water will occur on the coast closest to and northeast of the area of landfall.

FlightAware.com reports that nearly half of the flights in an out of Corpus Christi have been canceled for Friday and that 79 percent had been canceled for Saturday.

The last Category 3 or higher storm to hit the U.S. was Wilma, which smashed into Florida's coast in 2005, causing an estimated $30 billion in damage. It was the same year as Katrina and Rita, a record-breaking hurricane season that included three of the seven most intense Atlantic hurricanes on record.

Hurricane Bret in 1999 is the only major storm to have hit the Texas coast in the past 47 years. One of the most deadly storms was Ike, which killed nearly 200 people after it made landfall as a Category 2 storm near Galveston in 2008. Ike also ranks as the third-costliest Atlantic hurricane on record, after Katrina and Sandy.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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