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Texas Coast Prepares For Strengthened Hurricane Harvey

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Warnings are posted along much of the Texas Gulf Coast today as it gets ready for Hurricane Harvey. Today is also the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. It devastated southern Florida and led to major changes in how the country prepares and deals with hurricanes. We'll take a look back in a moment.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

First to Texas where forecasters had been expecting a tropical storm. But now Hurricane Harvey is gaining strength, and it could make landfall tomorrow with winds above 125 miles an hour. Houston Public Media's Laura Isensee reports.

LAURA ISENSEE, BYLINE: In Houston, long lines are already forming at grocery stores as people stock up on water, food and batteries. Destiny Okerekeocha was getting prepared for the storm at her local Walmart.

DESTINY OKEREKEOCHA: I bought canned food, a lot of vegetables, a little bit of alcohol.

ISENSEE: And in case she gets stuck at home...

OKEREKEOCHA: Some yarn so I can crochet.

ISENSEE: At a Home Depot nearby, store manager J.D. Walz says they've been busy and are bringing in even more emergency supplies.

J D WALZ: We know we're going to get a lot of water, but we're not really sure what the widespread effects are going to be - so whether there's going to be a lot of power outages, whether people are going to be stuck inside for a couple days. So at this point, it's just kind of a general umbrella of coverage.

ISENSEE: It's that uncertainty of where Harvey will make landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast and where it will go after that has residents concerned from Brownsville all the way to the Louisiana border. Officials are advising people to stay calm but be prepared. Jeff Lindner is a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District.

JEFF LINDNER: We're hurricane-prone down here. We're hurricane veterans. We've been through storms before. This one's a little different.

ISENSEE: Lindner says the region is used to storms hitting the coast and then moving inland and recovery starting quickly.

LINDNER: This is not going to be like that. It's going to hit the coast. It's going to slow down and stall and then meander over the area. So this is a prolonged, multiday, heavy rain potential for a large portion of the southern part of the state.

ISENSEE: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has already declared a state of disaster for a stretch of 30 counties near the coast. Some cities have already ordered mandatory evacuations, and others have told people to leave voluntarily if they're concerned. It's unclear how strong the winds will be in Houston, but there could be 15 inches of rain or more.

And that high water could stick around for days, so Houston schools have canceled the first day of the year. Two-hundred-thousand students were supposed to start class on Monday. Superintendent Richard Carranza says they're putting sandbags at flood-prone campuses and evacuating some equipment.

RICHARD CARRANZA: We want everybody to show up on the first day of school, whenever that first day is, healthy. So we don't want anybody risking themselves. And this is going to be a serious storm, so we want them to take it seriously.

ISENSEE: Since Harvey is predicted to bring days of heavy rain, it's already being compared to another disaster - Allison. It was just a tropical storm when it hit in 2001, but it ranks as one of the most expensive and deadliest weather events in Texas history. For NPR News, I'm Laura Isensee in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.