Raging thunderstorms in Houston over the weekend have left at least five people dead and twelve missing in their wake, with the subsequent flood killing nearly five more. The water could not penetrate the clay soil covering most of the region, leading to the flood waters pooling along the surface and washing downstream from central Texas into the Houston area. This, combined with almost 10 inches of rain, forced waterways to overflow quicker than people could get out of the way.
Hundreds of attendees to the Houston Rockets playoff game on Monday had to spend the night in the Toyota Center, as the rushing water was too harsh to risk driving home. The flood water was reportedly so bad that rescuers are currently investigating eight missing people after a vacation home in Wimberley (South-West of Austin) was carried off its foundation and slammed into a bridge nearby.
Houston Mayor, Annise Parker, said at a news conference that emergency workers have performed around 130 high-water rescues from half-sunken vehicles just overnight. “Once the water recedes,” she said “the city faces an enormous job towing the wrecked vehicles and clearing mud from the roadways.”
“I want to urge folks to not go out looking for flood waters, not to go out sightseeing,” she added.
Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist at the Harris County Flood Control District, also made a statement. “We have thousands and thousands of vehicles that are underwater right now, and as the water goes down, we may find more people in vehicles. We’re conservatively estimating 500 to 700 homes flooded, but that’s going to turn out to be on the low end.” He also reported that Keegans Bayou has reached the highest flood level ever recorded, and that water levels in certain areas of Braes Bayou were the highest it had been since 1983.
Despite the tragic nature of this event, much of Texas has been suffering from a drought for the last five years, so this sudden burst of rain over the past three weeks has helped fill up lakes and bodies of water across the region. Arrowhead Lake, for example, has gone in one month from 19 percent capacity to 93 percent capacity, and Lake Bridgeport has been filled from 38 percent to 96 percent according to Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska. He accompanied this information with a statement saying 72 percent of Texas was in a state of drought a year ago, 43 percent three months ago, and now he’s expecting that to drop to single digits this week. “To see anything like this outside of the tropics is just amazing,” expressed Fuchs. Cliff McNeill, a trucker from Dayton Ohio held a different outlook after spending the stormy night in his vehicle watching the water rise up to the lug nuts of his tires – “Houston was in a drought and needed this but it didn’t need it all in a deluge.”
Governor Greg Abbott said the damage looked ‘absolutely devastating’ when he flew across the Blanco River valley on Monday. He announced that 24 counties have been added to the 13 that have already been declared ‘disaster areas’ this month due to treacherous weather, and forecasters predict more rain and harsh weather to hit the state during the rest of this week. Officials recommended that families in near Willis leave their 400 or so homes sitting below the Lewis Creek Reservoir dam, which is believed to be at risk of falling after being weakened by the constant downpour.
Our hearts go out to the stranded and terrified families mourning the loss of their loved ones.