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Hurricane Harvey disaster in Texas 'will be landmark event'

Waters are still rising in Texas as an unprecedented storm moves across the US state leaving thousands homeless. Damage from Hurricane Harvey may be as bad as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

A mobile home park is destroyed after Hurricane Harvey landed in The Coast Bend Area

FEMA warned that the effects of the hurricane will be felt for years to come

More than two feet (60 cm) of rain fell on Houston by Sunday. It is the worst storm to hit the state in more than 50 years. More than 2,000 people have called in asking to be rescued amid rising floodwaters.

The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, predicted that the aftermath would require FEMA's involvement for years. "This disaster's going to be a landmark event," Long said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said crews were responding as fast as possible but demand is outstripping supply, although more help is on the way.

Watch video 01:51

'Harvey' leaves death and destruction

"Unless water is coming into your home and it is totally unsafe, I encourage you to stay in your home," Turner said. The mayor said its more dangerous on the road, and that traffic was further hampering rescue efforts.

Forecasters warn that the worst is yet to come, as another 2 feet of rain is expected to fall over the next few days as the system stalls in place.

One federal official said the recovery effort will take "years."

At least two people are confirmed dead, but authorities fear the death toll will rise.

The Category 4 hurricane made landfall in the heart of America's oil and gas industry late Friday with wind speeds of 130 mph (209 kph).

The storm tore off roofs, snapped trees, and triggered tornadoes and flash flooding. Nearly a quarter of a million people lost power, while a large portion of US oil and fuel production was halted.

50 inches of rain expected

As it moved inland, Harvey weakened to a tropical storm but was still expected to last several days, dumping as much as 50 inches (125 centimeters) of rain in some areas. The National Hurricane Center said the rain could cause widespread flooding.

"Rainfall measured in feet rather than inches can certainly create a catastrophic flood," spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

One person died in a house fire in the town of Rockport, which took a direct hit from the hurricane, Mayor Charles Wax said in a news conference on Saturday.

Gary Norman, a spokesman for the Houston emergency operations center, said one woman appeared to have gotten out of her car in high water and was swept away. She died at the scene. 

Another dozen people in the area suffered injuries such as broken bones, another official said.

Authorities said they were bracing for heavy rains and flooding even as they planned how to respond to the damage. Officials were unsure if there were further casualties in the town, which was left without electricity or cellphone and internet service.

Thousands help in cleanup

Read more: Climate change makes weather extremes the new normal

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Saturday said 1,800 military personnel would help with the statewide cleanup, while 1,000 people would conduct search-and-rescue operations.

The US Coast Guard said it had rescued 20 people from distressed vessels on Saturday, adding it was also monitoring two cruise ships stranded with thousands of passengers in the Gulf of Mexico.

It was the first big natural disaster for US President Donald Trump, who signed a disaster proclamation on Friday. He met with his Cabinet and staff on Saturday to discuss the federal response to the disaster, according to a White House statement.

Barbara Koster stands on her front door as she surveys her property which was left devastated by Hurricane Harvey in Rockport, Texas

Residents of Rockport choosing to stay were warned to mark their names on their arms to ease identification of their bodies

"President Trump emphasized his expectations that all departments and agencies stay fully engaged and positioned to support his number one priority of saving lives," the statement said.

Houston flooding

Read more: German insurer says costs of natural disasters soared in 2016

By Saturday night Houston's interstate highways and major streets were starting to flood as Harvey stalled over Southeast Texas. The fourth most populous city in the country was expecting several feet of rain in the coming days.

"This is serious," Mayor Sylvester Turner said late on Saturday. "It is important that people stay off the roads."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned the storm would have a major long-term impact.

"This is going to be an unprecedented long and frustrating event for the state of Texas," FEMA director Brock Long told the MSNBC television network. "The recovery from this disaster is going to be years."

aw/jlw (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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