By the end of the day, he had added another $10bn. Harvey’s initial blast along the Texas coast as a category 4 hurricane was bad enough, sending petrol prices skyrocketing and crude futures plunging, as refineries shut down.
Now the storm has returned, making landfall a second time in southwestern Louisiana, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The storm has brought torrential rain and the collapse of embankments, dams and drains. That combination has analysts raising damage estimates by the hour and could easily push the catastrophe above the rank of Superstorm Sandy, the second-costliest weather disaster in US history.
“We’re on the verge of having cascading failures,” said Watson, a Savannah, Georgia-based disaster analyst with Enki Research. “It is conceivable that we could get into the $60bn to $80bn range, without that much effort.”
Louisiana, including New Orleans, is familiar with apocalyptic storms. Hurricane Katrina killed at least 1800 and caused $160bn in damage.
Sandy, which slammed into New York and New Jersey in 2012, claimed 147 lives along its path from the Caribbean, including 72 in the US. The damage was about $70.2bn, according to the US National Centres for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina.
Yesterday, the death toll from Harvey had reached at least 18, according to the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. The New York Times cited Texas authorities as saying they believed Harvey caused at least 30 deaths.
A curfew, from 10pm to 5am was imposed in Houston on Tuesday night as the storm’s centre drifted back towards the Gulf of Mexico.
The storm made landfall between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor in Texas on Friday, pushing further inland over the weekend and is now moving eastwards.
It is expected to reach the Lower Mississippi Valley by today. The storm will be followed by tornadoes from Louisiana to Arkansas, while East Texas could get another 254mm of rain the rest of the week.
“Harvey aligned perfectly to bring intense swathes of rain over Houston,” said James Done, a project scientist and meteorologist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
As it drifted along the coast on Monday and Tuesday, it also “perfectly aligned for Houston to get the peak rainfall”.
Harvey also created a situation where Gulf of Mexico waters have kept drumming hard up against the coastline, preventing rainwater from running off into the sea and backing everything up for kilometres.
The ferocious arrival was tempered by high-pressure systems across the US, including a large one that pushed temperatures in California beyond 38°C, said Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University. Harvey became “a pebble in a stagnant stream”.
Predictions were that some areas east of Houston would witness 1270mm or more of rain by the time Harvey moved off into the central US. Yesterday, the gauge at Mont Belvieu, east of the city, showed 1317mm had fallen since the start of the storm. That may be the most in recorded history for a tropical cyclone in the contiguous US, breaking recorded rainfall set in Texas in 1978.
But the record for all 50 states in such a storm was set in 1950 in Hawaii - 1320mm. Harvey’s deluge was made worse because the ground was already saturated by heavy rainfall earlier in the season.