80ºF

Harvey brings record flooding to Texas

Powerful, turbid, gray-green water swallows pets, cars, homes


CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Harvey's rain continued to flood areas of Houston on Monday morning and was setting up a dangerous dilemma for residents who were staying home. They could either risk being trapped on a shrinking island or venture out to dangerous flooded roads.

The slow-moving tropical storm was going to prompt more evacuations this week. Authorities were asking residents to try to stay on the roof's of their home for as long as possible. If they got stranded or injured in the middle of a flooded area, rescue crews were in short supply.  

Aside from the torrential rain submerging entire neighborhoods, the storm was also activating tornado warnings in some areas. Meteorologists said Texans were only about half way through the disaster, as some parts of Houston were likely to receive between 40 to 50 inches of rain

"This is going to go on a lot longer than most people think," said Max Mayfield, the former National Hurricane Center director and Local 10 News' hurricane specialist. 

Areas of the nation's fourth-largest city were accessible only by boat. Residents were using everything from inflatable beach toys to grocery shopping carts and air mattresses to get to safety. There were a lot of untold stories of heroism, as a citizen volunteer rescue force took action. 

As turbid, gray-green water swallowed pets, homes and cars, Maria Barlett waited in her bedroom upstairs. The first floor of her home in west Houston was flooded.

Authorities were too overwhelmed to rescue her, so her son, Tom Bartlett, and Steven Craig pulled a rowboat on a rope through chest-deep water for a mile to save her. 

"When I was younger, I used to wish I had a daughter, but I have the best son in the world," Barlett, 88, said. "In my 40 years here, I have never seen the water this high."

At least five deaths and at least 14 injuries were blamed on the Friday and weekend hit of the Category 4 to 1 hurricane, which slowly downgraded into a tropical storm Saturday.

In some neighborhoods in Houston, the water was gushing into second-floor apartments. Residents were forced to put their valuables in plastic containers and bags. Rescuers were using helicopters, boats and "high water rescue" vehicles to access inundated neighborhoods in treacherous conditions. 

Authorities warned residents in neighborhoods near the Addicks and Barker reservoirs to evacuate. Engineers designed the reservoirs to prevent flooding in downtown Houston. With rising water levels putting pressure on the dams, officials decided a controlled release early Monday morning was necessary to prevent failure.

"It is what its, so you just gotta deal with it. When the waters come in, you just wait for the waters to go down and when they go down you rebuild," Greg White said before leaving his recently remodeled home. "That's all you can do. The neighbors have been great. People will ask, 'Hey, is everything OK. Can we help?'"

Darakniqueca La'Shay Burns, a mother in Houston, used social media to show her belongings piled up on furniture and counters as her home flooded. Her daughter was playing on the couch. 

"I am trying to laugh to keep from crying," Burns said before fleeing her home and wading through the water for safety. "I don't even know if we can get out the door. It's so high. We laughing and playing, but for real: It's getting too high and I am scared."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who is a wheel-chair user, said the best way for the public to help those in need was to contact the Red Cross and he also said authorities were doing everything they could to help the most vulnerable. The U.S. Coast Guard's helicopters and boats were part of the rescue effort. 

"We are still moving hundreds of evacuees to safe locations," Abbott said. 

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner didn't order evacuations, because he said the risk of sending the city's 2.3 million residents onto the highways was too high. With the heavy rain, the search and rescue efforts were prioritizing life-and-death situations, he said.

"I don't need to tell anyone this is a very, very serious and unprecedented storm," Turner said. "We have several hundred structural flooding reports. We expect that number to rise pretty dramatically."

Jesse Gonzalez said he and his son used their boat to rescue residents and dogs swimming in southeast Houston. A CNN reporter and a photojournalist stopped to help rescue a pair of grandparents trapped in waist-high flooding, two dogs and a woman. 

Firefighters, police officers and volunteers scanned coastal towns' debris looking for bodies. Rescuers risked facing frightened pets left behind, displaced alligators and snakes, dangerous electrical issues and blocked roads. 

About four dozen members of a specialized team from Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue left Sunday and they were set to start working Monday. 

A city of Miami Department of Fire-Rescue team and other specialized teams from other departments in Florida and around the nation left Sunday afternoon with boats, fuel and equipment designed to help out families and animals who were still stranded in Texas. 

Authorities were asking Houston residents to avoid seeking shelter in their attics to prevent deaths, as residents were getting trapped. Some roads had three to five feet of water, so drivers were going back the wrong way or abandoning their cars on the side of the road.

Local authorities were also asking volunteers with flat-bottom boats to help them rescue stranded Texans. 

Meteorologists were keeping track of the rainfall totals, which were climbing by the hour since Thursday. When Harvey made landfall northeast of Corpus Christi Friday night, they considered it the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade. 

Harvey -- the strongest hurricane to strike Texas since 1961's Hurricane Carla -- weakened to a tropical storm Saturday, but meteorologists warned the storm's bands were feeding off the warmth of the Gulf Coast. 

Most of the property damage was in the coastal city of Rockport, where a fire during the storm killed a woman.

Another woman drowned Saturday night when she tried to get out of her vehicle in high water, according to the Houston emergency operations center. 

"The disaster is going to be a landmark event," Long said. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price declared a public health emergency Sunday. Price also put additional medical personnel on alert to deal with the mental and physical health issues that will rise after the storm. 

President Donald Trump, who was at Camp David during the storm, returned to Washington Sunday and was expected to visit Texas Tuesday. He tweeted there was "great coordination" between local, state and federal agencies. 

CoreLogic estimated Friday the storm will leave behind about $40 billion in damages with some 232,721 homes on the Texas coast.

Corporate America responded with contributions to the Red Cross. Western Union donated $30K. The Caterpillar Foundation donated $300K. Exxon Mobil and Lowe's donated $500K each. Google and Humana, donated $250K each.  

The storm was also likely to prompt a price rise at the gas pump for consumers in South Florida. Exxon Mobil was among the companies to order evacuations and close refineries. Their Baytown refinery, about 25 miles east of Houston, can process up to 587,000 barrels of crude oil per day. 

S&P estimated Sunday that Harvey forced roughly 2.2 million barrels per day of the area's refining capacity offline. The sector's hourly employees were also bound to suffer. Exxon Mobil employs about 7,000 at their Baytown refinery alone. 

Texans will be getting hit from all sides this week. 

 

Photos of the ongoing storm 

 

 

SATELLITE IMAGES AND GRAPHICS

 

 

Local 10 News partners ABC News , CNN, Getty Images and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


About the Authors: