Strongest storm to hit US since 2005 builds

 

Tropical Storm Harvey is seen approaching the the Texas Gulf Coast in this satellite image. Photo:Reuters
Tropical Storm Harvey is seen approaching the the Texas Gulf Coast in this satellite image. Photo:Reuters

A Gulf of Mexico storm rapidly intensified early on Friday spinning into potentially the biggest hurricane to hit the mainland United States in 12 years and taking aim at the heart of nation's oil refining industry.

Hurricane Harvey strengthened to a category 2 storm, packed winds of 160kph as it moved northwest about 355km off the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

The storm is forecast to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday (local time), packing winds of up to 200kph. The storm could bring a surge in sea levels as high as 123m and dump up to 97cm of rain over parts of Texas. Flood warnings are in effect for northern Mexico and Louisiana.

The threat has triggered evacuations and canceled the first day of school in communities along the south Texas coast, which is home to 5.8 million people from Corpus Christi to Galveston.

"Life-threatening and devastating flooding expected near the coast due to heavy rainfall and storm surge," the hurricane centre said.

Energy companies shut coastal refineries, pulled workers from Gulf of Mexico offshore oil platforms and halted onshore drilling in south Texas on Thursday. Just under 10% of offshore US Gulf of Mexico crude output capacity and nearly 15% of natural gas production was halted by midday, government data showed.

Harvey is forecast to come ashore as a Category 3 hurricane, the US National Hurricane Center said, the third most powerful on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which would make it the first major hurricane to hit the mainland United States since Hurricane Wilma struck Florida in 2005.

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