Here’s What’s Happened With Hurricane Harvey So Far, and What We Can Expect

FEMA's recovery efforts may take "years," so what should residents and donors know moving forward?

View this video on YouTube

In the days since Harvey made landfall in Texas, the storm has slammed the region with more than 50 inches of rain. The local National Weather Service office put this number in context Tuesday by noting that such estimates potentially mark the "largest flood in Houston-Galveston history." At least 10 people have died, with thousands more seeking safety in shelters as the storm slowly made its way to Louisiana as of Tuesday afternoon.

While rescue operations and the distribution of supplies to displaced residents remain the dual focus of Harvey-impacted areas in the U.S., discussions regarding a path forward for residents and a timeline for recovery have begun. Below, find up-to-date coverage on the most pressing questions.

What caused Harvey to have such a devastating impact?

View this video on YouTube

Early Sunday, the National Weather Service called the event "unprecedented" and warned residents to follow all orders from local officials. "All impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced," the NWS said at the time. But what facilitated Harvey's record-setting strength?

Warm water, meteorologist Jeff Masters explained to PBS, was an early contributing factor. "The hotter the water, the more energy it drives into a storm," Masters explained. "Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed New Orleans in 2005, also mushroomed to Category 4 in a similar fashion because it, too, passed over a hot eddy in the Gulf."

The "eddy" Masters mentioned was an area of extremely warm ocean water that was between 1 and 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding Golf of Mexico, which was also warmer than usual at the time of Harvey's arrival. Of course, climate change also has a role in all of this.

As for why Harvey seemed to remain stalled over Texas, Masters said that's a result of two different high-pressure systems attempting to push the storm in separate directions but ultimately "canceling each other out."

Where can displaced residents go for safety?

View this video on YouTube

Though Joel Osteen's Houston-based megachurch dominated headlines Tuesday for its delayed response to Harvey relief efforts, the united response from other groups (and, eventually, the megachurch in question) has helped provide displaced residents with accommodations.

In Houston alone, there are nearly two dozen shelters being reported as open by local news outlets. These locations include the Denver Harbor Multi-Service Center, Fifth Ward Multi-Service Center, Third Ward Multi-Service Center, Sunnyside Multi-Service Center, MET Church, Harbor Light Center, Sally's House, Family Residence, and more. There are additional options in surrounding areas. For a comprehensive (and routinely updated) list of shelters, consult Houston's ownKTRK-TV.

Roughly 80 percent of Harvey victims lack adequate flood insurance, USA Todayreported Tuesday. These homeowners will likely face high repair costs, even with the potential for federal benefits. Consumer Federation of America insurance director Robert Hunter explained that, even if an applicant's relief benefits are approved, they would come in the form of what is essentially a second mortgage. "If you have $30,000 in damages, you can get maybe $25,000," he said.

For those in need of additional information on federal relief benefits, consult FEMA's official site (which includes a Spanish-language option) for updated resources on Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. Airbnb has also launched a site for those seeking temporary housing.

How long is recovery expected to take?

View this video on YouTube

FEMA administrator William Brock Long estimated over the weekend that general Harvey recovery may take years. "Right now we are deep into the life-safety mission of helping people be rescued through swift water rescue, search and rescue," Long told NBC News.

Economically, experts are predicting a fairly quick recovery, despite some estimates placing the total Harvey damage in the neighborhood of $50 billion. The Perryman Group, a financial consultant group based in Waco, told the New York Times Monday that they expected Harvey to ultimately become "one of the two most costly" storms in history. Still, the local economy is expected to shift—not totally halt—following the initiation of widespread recovery efforts.

How can I help?

View this video on YouTube

Donating to trusted groups, even in small amounts, can go a long way. In addition to FEMA's list of suggested non-profit donation recipients, a variety of efforts have been launched in recent days by prominent public figures including Beyoncé and Kevin Hart. Tuesday, Kim Kardashian announced plans to donate $500,000 to both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Blood donations, food, and various relief supplies are also accepted through a variety of groups. For more on how you can help Harvey victims, even from afar, click here.

Latest in Life