As hot, sunny weather returned to Houston on Thursday, portions of the city’s west side remained virtually shut down. Though tropical rains no longer pelt the city, officials have struggled to maintain control over the Barker and Addicks reservoirs, which continued to release floodwaters Thursday after overflowing their banks for the first time in history.
At around 2 a.m. Thursday, when Tropical Storm Harvey was already well to the east, new mandatory evacuations were issued for around a dozen neighborhoods around Barker, including parts of Cinco Ranch.
Around 6 p.m., the inbound lanes of I-59 were parking lots in some places. And Memorial remained a traffic nightmare, with basically all of the area’s cars diverted onto a couple major roads. It took a reporter almost an hour to get from Memorial to Westheimer along Chimney Rock.
Portions of Voss, Piney Point and Memorial were all closed Thursday, with caution tape and police officers blocking some streets. A couple of helicopters circled overhead. And the section of Buffalo Bayou through the neighborhood, though well below its banks in some places, remained a roaring river.
Westheimer was slow but passable from Chimney Rock to Dairy Ashford. At Dairy Ashford, though, deep floodwaters remained on the road, making westbound travel past that point more or less impossible, at least for low-bodied cars.
As traffic approached Shadowbriar, drivers were squeezed into two lanes, then one, then basically zero, as water slowly crept over the street. Imagining all of Westheimer, save for a few big trucks, trying to U-turn at once, gives a sense of the chaos there Thursday.
A strip mall on the south side of the Westheimer had basically become waterfront property. A surreal calm hung over the mostly empty mall, as dazed customers and employees took some of their first outings in days.
Jose Garcia and Alison Valvo, a couple, sat outside Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli, eating an early dinner. They two live near Katy, and said flooding had been bad on Peek Road, near where they live.
“It looks better than I expected it to be,” Garcia said, surveying the chaos on Westheimer. “Yesterday, we couldn’t even get out here.”
“We were driving around for more than hour, going through residential neighborhoods and stuff,” Valvo added.
Halfway across the mall, a branch of Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen was just reopening for the first time since Friday. The restaurant was by no means full, but a surprising number of customers had already come in.
Olivia Oakes, a hostess, stood near the front of the restaurant. “I think [the floodwater] is coming from Kirkwood,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot more cars today. Still, people have had to take random back routes.”
Oakes said her co-workers had kept a group text going, to check on each other and see who would be able to make it in. Oakes told them she could work. Although she lived nearby, she said she’d been lucky. Her apartment hadn't flooded.
“Memorial is done for,” she added. “Well, not done for — but it’s really bad.”
Spirits seemed high, at least in this strip mall, despite the flooding. Harris Waters and Aiesha Bill were hanging out in the strip mall’s parking lot. They lived near the Uptown area, and though they’d heard harrowing stories from their neighborhood — a Omni Hotel employee who was helping with evacuations Saturday has been missing ever since — they were just happy to be alive.
The pair had heard crazy stories from family in Sugar Land. “We talked to a few relatives, [they say] alligators are floating around,” Waters said.
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“And wild boars,” Bill added.
Waters noted that Texas law allows people to kill nuisance animals. “I wish I was down there,” he said, smiling. “I’d get myself some new shoes and a wallet.”