Houston 101

Assessing the Aftermath: Death Toll Climbs After Historic Houston Flooding

(See the end of this post for an update on Tuesday's closures.)

The mass flooding yesterday that turned Houston roads into rivers and bayous into lakes was a weather event for the ages. 

Governor Greg Abbott declared Harris County, along with eight other counties, to be in a state of disaster late Monday afternoon. Shortly after, Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said that some parts of the Houston metro area saw the most rainfall ever. 

In just 12 hours, up to 17.6 inches of rain consumed parts of western Harris County. The 9.91 inches that cancelled more than 850 flights at Bush Intercontinental Airport fell just short of breaking the record of 10.34 inches, set in 1989. According to Jeff Lindner, a Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist, the 16.28 inches dumped on upper Cypress Creek was more than two inches above the 500-year frequency. An average of 7.75 inches drenched the county overall, Linder said, meaning that some 240 billion gallons of water fell across the region — enough to surge through Niagara Falls for 88 consecutive hours.

So it's no wonder, then, that the National Weather Service is calling this rain event "historic."

The floods shut down nearly 100 roads, and thus what seemed like the entire city. They caused more than 120,000 power outages.  They seeped into well over 1,000 homes and displaced an untold number of Greenspoint apartment complex residents, who were bused to various shelters in northwest Houston. The floods closed all schools and city buildings and the zoo and many office buildings. Emergency crews performed more than 1,200 high-water rescues, though not everyone could be saved. The floods took at least five lives.

Houstonians documented the extent of the destruction all across social media (see all of the following below). There was the team of locals who rescued drowning horses near Cypress Creek in Humble. The news reporter who sorta rescued a man from his sinking car on Studemont near I-10. And the man wading knee-deep through water after rescuing an armadillo. 

Elsewhere, a massive sinkhole opened up along FM 1094 at New Ulm and Cat Spring, a retaining wall collapsed near Highway 290 and Huffmeister, and stacks of lumber floated down the road like rafts outside Cactus Music along South Shepherd. In Greenspoint, among the worst-hit areas, the apartment evacuees could be seen rowing small blow-up boats, in the kind of scenes you see in the aftermath of a hurricane.

While Abbott said this isn't an "Allison situation," noting that Allison brought about twice the amount of rainfall, Harris County and city officials like County Judge Ed Emmett and Mayor Sylvester Turner said it's comparable not necessarily in rainfall amount, but in the sheer scope of the storm and the damage wrought. And it's not over, either.

A flash flood watch remains in effect into Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service noted that all it will take to aggravate the flooded roadways or bayous — nearly all of which had jumped their banks yesterday — is just one or two more inches of rain. With isolated thunderstorms expected throughout the night, don't expect to wake up this morning and hop on your usual route to work. Check to be sure your route doesn't include any high water here.

Update 6:45 a.m.: 

Historic flooding across Houston has closed most of the area’s largest school districts for a second day in a row. Among the districts that had announced closures by early Tuesday: Houston, Fort Bend, Katy, Conroe, Alief, Aldine, Cypress-Fairbanks, Lamar, Montgomery, Spring, Spring Branch, Stafford and Tomball.

Officials have also closed the University of Houston, Rice University and Houston Community College campuses for the second day.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn