HOUSTON (AP) — With time running out, tens of thousands of people fled Friday from the path of an increasingly menacing-looking Hurricane Harvey as it took aim at a wide swath of the Texas Gulf Coast that includes oil refineries, chemical plants and dangerously flood-prone Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned that the monster system would be “a very major disaster,” and the menacing forecasts drew fearful comparisons to Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest ever to strike the U.S.

“We know that we’ve got millions of people who are going to feel the impact of this storm,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman and meteorologist for the National Hurricane Center. “We really pray that people are listening to their emergency managers and get out of harm’s way.”

The outer bands of the storm arrived Friday, with rain pelting the coast, water levels rising and winds accelerating to tropical storm force.

Aside from the wind and storm surges, the system was expected to drop prodigious amounts of rain — up to 3 feet. The resulting flooding, one expert said, could be “the depths of which we’ve never seen.”

At least one researcher predicted heavy damage that would linger for months or longer.

“In terms of economic impact, Harvey will probably be on par with Hurricane Katrina,” said University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. “The Houston area and Corpus Christi are going to be a mess for a long time.”


Scientists warned that Harvey could become powerful enough to swamp counties more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) inland and stir up dangerous surf as far away as Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, 700 miles from the projected landfall.

It may also spawn tornadoes. Even after weakening, the system could spin out into the Gulf and regain strength before hitting Houston a second time Wednesday as a tropical storm, forecasters said.

All seven Texas counties on the coast from Corpus Christi to the western end of Galveston Island ordered mandatory evacuations from low-lying areas. Four counties ordered full evacuations and warned there was no guarantee of rescue for people staying behind.T

The heavy rain was expected to extend into Louisiana, driven by counter-clockwise winds that could carry water from the Gulf of Mexico far inland. Forecasts called for as much as 15 inches in southwest Louisiana over the next week, and up to 6 inches in the New Orleans area.