Thousands waiting for rescue, more than 30K homes destroyed in Houston area

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images(HOUSTON) -- Thousands of people likely remain stranded and an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 homes have been destroyed in the Houston area as Hurricane Harvey, now a tropical storm, continues to batter the Gulf Coast region with torrential rains, flooding and strong winds, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told ABC News.

Harvey made its third landfall just west of Cameron, Louisiana, at 4 a.m. CT Wednesday with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, according to the National Weather Service. As of 7 a.m. CT, the slow-moving storm had picked up some speed moving north, and its center was about 25 miles away from Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Ahead of that, it battered the Port Arthur area in southeast Texas, dumping as much as 2 feet of rain in some parts.

"We have people who are on the second floor of their homes; they're riding it out and they're waiting for the waters to go down," Emmett said in an interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America.

"We've got probably 30,000-40,000 homes that have been destroyed," Emmett added.

Although the storm has begun to shift the brunt of its impact to western Louisiana, Emmett said Texas' Harris County must now help residents return to their homes.

The "biggest challenge" is getting people back into their homes, he said. "We've got to get those people back into their normal lives as soon as possible."

Harvey, which first came ashore on Friday in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, dumped more than 51 inches of rain on some parts of the state, according to preliminary reports from the National Weather Service. The storm is responsible for at least 11 deaths, all in Texas, over the past four days.

The tropical storm is expected to weaken and continue moving to the north and east across the Lower Mississippi Valley and Tennessee Valley through Thursday. But the National Weather Service said Harvey still has the potential to cause "life-threatening flooding."

"Catastrophic and life-threatening flooding continues in southeastern Texas and portions of southwestern Louisiana,” the National Weather Service warned in its advisory Wednesday morning. "Excessive runoff from heavy rainfall will cause flooding of small creeks and streams, urban areas, highways, streets and underpasses as well as other drainage areas and low-lying spots."

The situation became serious in eastern Texas in the early hours of Wednesday. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for parts of southeast Texas, including Beaumont and Port Arthur, which received as much as 2 feet of rain in some areas during the early morning hours.

Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman urged residents to get to higher ground in a Facebook post early Wednesday.

"Our whole city is underwater right now, but we are coming," Freeman wrote in one post.

Officials were forced to evacuate the shelter at the Bob Bower Civic Center in Port Arthur on Wednesday morning after it began to fill with water. One witness, who was forced to relocate, said some areas of the center had almost 4 feet of water inside. Displaced residents were taken to a secondary evacuation site at the Carl Parker Center, ABC affiliate KBMT-TV said.

The flash flood warning for Port Arthur was in effect until 9:15 a.m. CT. The National Weather Service was forecasting 1 to 2 inches of additional rainfall in the region Wednesday morning.

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