Harvey Unleashes Unprecedented Flooding Across Houston; Civil Emergency Issued

Scene at Yale and Interstate 10 around 9 a.m. Sunday.
Scene at Yale and Interstate 10 around 9 a.m. Sunday. Photo by Meagan Flynn
Update, 2:38 p.m.: Governor Abbott has asked FEMA to extend the federal disaster declaration to 12 more counties in Texas, including Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Ben Taub Hospital is being evacuated due to flooding in the basement causing power problems; patients will be taken to other area hospitals. Emmett and the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management are asking people with boats to volunteer to assist with rescues so everyone can be taken to safety before dark. Those who can help should call 713-881-3100 and ask for the fire marshal. 

Update, 10:36 a.m.: At a press conference held by city officials, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the Houston police and fire departments have responded to more than 2,000 calls for rescues, and HFD Chief Samuel Peña said 1,000 were still in the queue. Life-threatening calls are given preference. Sixty on-street locations have been barricaded due to high-water as of midnight, and Turner said most major thoroughfares and feeder roads are impassable. The George R. Brown is being opened as a shelter, and Turner has asked many multi-service community centers to open as shelters as well. The city has received "several hundred" structural flooding reports, and "we expect that to rise pretty dramatically," Turner said.

Asked whether he regretted not issuing an evacuation order, Turner said he did not. "You can’t put 2.3 million people on the road. That is dangerous. If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare."

Turner said HPD, HFD, the Texas Task Force, Public Works, and the Texas Military Force, and the Texas Department of Transportation are deploying more than 40 high-water rescue vehicles, with more on the way.
"This is a storm that is testing the City of Houston," Turner said. "I understand people have water in their homes and are very concerned. And people are wanting the assistance right now; they’re wanting 911, and are sometimes frustrated when they can’t get to it. I understand that. But if we all work together, the additional resources are being deployed as we speak, and we will get to you, and we will get through this."

Houston Independent School District announced Sunday morning that schools would be closed all week and would not begin until Tuesday, September 5 after Labor Day.

Houston is on track for what the National Weather Service is calling an unprecedented and epic flooding event as the city and greater region have remained under a flash flood emergency for nearly 12 hours. And it's not stopping any time soon.

As more than a foot and a half of rain fell over Houston since 7 p.m. Saturday, the Houston fire and police departments received more than 1,000 calls for high-water rescues and responded to as many as possible, said HPD spokesman John Cannon. Rescues are ongoing.

Overnight, emergency evacuations began at two apartment complexes in the Greenspoint area, as just over a foot of rain fell in the area, according to the Harris County Flood Control District's gauge at U.S. 59 and Greens Bayou, — 6 feet over its banks — and U.S. 59. Roughly 200 residents were taken to the American Cross at the MO Campbell Education Center, taken on Metro buses from the Arbor Court Apartments, which experienced devastating floods last April, and another at 400 Greens Road. Metro transportation service is currently suspended.

So far, one fatality is believed to be related to the flooding, Cannon said: A woman appears to have driven into high water at Warrenton and South Gessner and was discovered in her flooded-out vehicle, but cause of death has not been confirmed. The Houston Chronicle, citing the NWS, reported five Harvey-related deaths have been confirmed.
click to enlarge Near I-10 and Yale Sunday morning. - PHOTO BY MEAGAN FLYNN
Near I-10 and Yale Sunday morning.
Photo by Meagan Flynn
Record-level flooding is ongoing across the area, and homes in Meyerland along the Brays Bayou, also over its banks, are experiencing floods yet again. The National Weather Service, issuing a civil emergency, has asked people experiencing extreme residential flooding to call for help and get on the roof, because people will not be visible to rescuers if they go in the attic. Cannon said people need to be judicious about calling 911, that a few inches of rain in the home should not be considered an emergency. According to NWS, much of the Houston/Galveston area has received two feet of rain in the last 24 hours.
click to enlarge Scene near Highway 288 Sunday morning. - PHOTO BY STUART FOLB
Scene near Highway 288 Sunday morning.
Photo by Stuart Folb

"911 services have been taxed overnight in the city of Houston," Cannon said. "We’re asking for those calling 911 to do it if it’s an actual emergency. Stay off the roads, because even if you have lulls in these [rain] bands, that might make people a little comfortable thinking they can venture out, and you never know when it's going to start again."

Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist noted on Twitter that rainfall rates at some locations are exceeding 500-year flood levels and Tropical Storm Allison flood levels. The City of South Houston received 9.92 inches in just three hours, 0.5 inches above the 500-year flood rate. Beamer Ditch in Friendswood received 5.28 inches in just one hour, exceeding TS Allison; Turkey Creek, now three feet over its banks is exceeding Allison as well.

Over in Fort Bend County, more tornadoes ripped through the Missouri City area. Due to extensive river flooding, county officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents in low-lying areas near San Bernard River and a voluntary evacuation order for those in low-lying areas near the Brazos. Both rivers are expected to break 2016 flooding records, according to NWS.

As of 7 a.m., the NWS said August became the wettest month on record for Houston, with an average rainfall of nearly 23 inches, breaking the June 2011 record.

The National Weather Service canceled the tropical storm warning north of Sargent, saying Harvey was likely to turn into a tropical depression Sunday—but said life-threatening flooding will still be ongoing.

Houston and Harris County officials will hold a press conference at 10:30 this morning to provide a more extensive update and the floods, damage, rescues and injuries.

click to enlarge Yale and 22nd Sunday morning. - PHOTO BY ZACH DESPART
Yale and 22nd Sunday morning.
Photo by Zach Despart
click to enlarge Flooding in the Spring area. - PHOTO BY CINDY EHRHARDT
Flooding in the Spring area.
Photo by Cindy Ehrhardt

click to enlarge Deep and treacherous - PHOTO BY JUSTIN NAVA
Deep and treacherous
Photo by Justin Nava
click to enlarge Congress Street - PHOTO BY JUSTIN NAVA
Congress Street
Photo by Justin Nava

click to enlarge Onlookers reportedly warned the driver, who was wearing a life jacket, not to go farther, but he did — right up till he didn't. - PHOTO BY TEX KERSCHEN
Onlookers reportedly warned the driver, who was wearing a life jacket, not to go farther, but he did — right up till he didn't.
Photo by Tex Kerschen

click to enlarge During a brief break in the rain Sunday, people who tried to walk to Kitty Hollow Park in Missouri City found they were cut off with most of the park land under water. - PHOTO BY MARGARET DOWNING
During a brief break in the rain Sunday, people who tried to walk to Kitty Hollow Park in Missouri City found they were cut off with most of the park land under water.
Photo by Margaret Downing

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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