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This terrifying investigation reveals just how unprepared Texas is for Hurricane Harvey

Scientists have been sounding the alarm since Hurricane Ike made landfall in 2008 that "Houston's perfect storm is coming — and it's not a matter of if, but when," ProPublica and The Texas Tribune wrote in a joint investigation last year. With Hurricane Harvey now brewing off the Texas coast, strengthening into the strongest storm to approach the U.S. mainland in a decade, the serious danger facing Texas' coastal communities — as well as how little has been done to prepare for it — is suddenly much more grave:

If a storm hits the region in the right spot, "it's going to kill America's economy," said Pete Olson, a Republican congressman from Sugar Land, a Houston suburb.

Such a storm would devastate the Houston Ship Channel, shuttering one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Flanked by 10 major refineries — including the nation's largest — and dozens of chemical manufacturing plants, the Ship Channel is a crucial transportation route for crude oil and other key products, such as plastics and pesticides. A shutdown could lead to a spike in gasoline prices and many consumer goods — everything from car tires to cell phone parts to prescription pills.

"It would affect supply chains across the U.S., it would probably affect factories and plants in every major metropolitan area in the U.S.," said Patrick Jankowski, vice president for research at the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston's chamber of commerce. [ProPublica/The Texas Tribune]

There are only a "few hours" left for Houston to prepare for Harvey. "Hopefully this is a wake-up call, but this could become an absolute horror," Rice University environmental engineer Jim Blackburn told CBS News. "If we reach those levels, we could see the worst environmental disaster in United States history. And we'd probably shut down and cause a major gap in gasoline and jet fuel and other types of critical products' availability." As ProPublica and the Tribune wrote: "If Houston's refineries closed, some experts envision something like $7­ per­ gallon gasoline across the country for an indefinite period of time."

Another Rice University engineering professor, Phil Bedient, warned in 2016: "We're sitting ducks. We've done nothing … We've done nothing to shore up the coastline, to add resiliency … to do anything." Read the full chilling investigation at ProPublica.