Hurricane Harvey menaces Texas, Louisiana

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CHICAGO: A large swath of the US Gulf Coast hunkered down on Thursday as Hurricane Harvey barreled towards Texas and Louisiana – an area that processes some seven million barrels of oil a day.

The US National Hurricane Center [NHC] warned that Harvey was “rapidly intensifying” and creating a potential for “life-threatening and devastating” floods.

The storm’s center was due to make landfall sometime early Saturday, with preceding strong winds arriving as early as 1300 GMT on Friday.

Harvey’s maximum sustained winds Thursday were about 85 miles per hour, but the NHC said the category one hurricane could hit land as a much more powerful category three, with winds of 209 kilo meters per hour.

If forecasts hold, Harvey would be the strongest hurricane to hit the US mainland in 12 years. “For anyone who has not already evacuated, please hurry to do so,” the city of Portland, Texas declared on its website in capital letters.

The storm was menacing one-third of the US refining capacity, forcing several energy companies to take precautions and evacuate personnel from oil and gas platforms in the heart of the US “Refinery Row.”

One oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico was evacuated on Thursday, as well as 39 manned oil and natural gas production platforms, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Those evacuations represented an estimated 9.5 per cent of oil production and 14.7 per cent of natural gas production in the Gulf, the Bureau said.

The storm was expected to dump as much as 35 inches of rain in some parts of Texas. Dangerous storm surges were also forecast to reach between six to 12 feet above ground level in the worst-hit regions.