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Hurricane Harvey Gets Downgraded To Tropical Storm


We're going to begin this hour with the latest on the hurricane that came ashore in the southeast United States in the early morning hours. Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm but has since been downgraded to a tropical storm. But it's causing heavy rains that are expected to continue for several days to come. The National Hurricane Center is warning about catastrophic flooding.

NPR's John Burnett spent last night listening to the storm pass through Corpus Christi, and he spent today surveying the damage where the eye of the storm passed. John, thanks so much for joining us. Tell us what you saw.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Michel, we went to ground zero. We went to where the storm actually - the center of it hit. And these little towns of Rockport and Fulton have just taken a ferocious battering. It's as bad as any damage I've seen in a hurricane. You can see where tornados dropped out of the clouds. And I don't think we saw a structure that wasn't damaged.

Power poles were down, lines everywhere, the sheet metal just peeled off of mobile homes and commercial buildings, just all kinds of damage in shopping centers and convenience stores, and still quite a bit of water standing around. It's really in a frightful condition. And people are just walking around in an absolute daze, including public officials. They're just beginning to comprehend what has happened to their beautiful little cities.

MARTIN: You know, we were told to expect major flooding, but it sounds as though the high winds was really the cause of a lot of the damage.

BURNETT: Exactly. A guy who owned a bait shop told me that they got about 6 to 8 feet of storm surge. It went up and went down very quickly. It didn't really do that much damage. But the wind was just ferocious, 132 mile per hour is - that was one of the strongest gusts and, again, these little tornadoes that dropped down. And so you just see all this damage here and there where just houses are just ripped open and all their belongings are getting drenched in this continuing rain down here - a really sorry state.

MARTIN: Now, you know, you've been telling us about the impact on property. And a lot of us, if you've been watching this on the news, can see it. But what are you hearing about the toll it's taking on people?

BURNETT: I'm really glad you asked that, Michel. I did quite a few interviews with storm survivors, some people who were just coming back at that moment, and just really, really emotional. Everybody talked about their prayers and about how - you know, at one point this woman, Diane Smith (ph), says she just went outside and she put her arms heavenward and said, God, save us, don't kill us, and what have we done?

And then they called 911 and they got picked up during the eye. And then they took them to the jail where they slept in inmate beds the rest of the night till the storm passed. But people are traumatized by this. When you go through a Category 4 hurricane and just that roar, the incessant roar that you hear and the shaking of the buildings, it just - it really affects people to their core.

MARTIN: And apparently it isn't over. What's in store for Texas in the coming hours and days?

BURNETT: Well, we're back in Corpus right now, and we're on kind of the tail end of what's now a tropical storm. And it - from the map it looks like it's moving up right toward San Antonio. And it still has a tremendous amount of rain. We - just driving on the highway you can see that the ground is utterly saturated and water is coming on to the highway. I don't - some of these are going to be impassable, I think, in the coming days. And so this huge storm system still has a tremendous amount of moisture in it. And, you know, from San Antonio to Austin, possibly Houston, they're just going to have a days-long drenching.

MARTIN: That's NPR's John Burnett in Corpus Christi, Texas. John, thanks so much for speaking to us.

BURNETT: You bet, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.