Officials act to protect downtown Houston

The Associated Press

HOUSTON–Officials released more water from Houston-area reservoirs overwhelmed by “Harvey” early today in a move aimed at protecting the city’s downtown from devastating floods.
But that still could endanger thousands of homes–even as the nation’s fourth-largest city anticipated more rain.
Harvey, which made landfall late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and has lingered just off the coast dropping heavy rain as a tropical storm, sent devastating floods pouring into Houston yesterday.
The rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground, and overwhelmed rescuers who could not keep up with the constant calls for help.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long said during a news conference today that as many as 50 counties in Texas are affected by the flooding and that a tremendous amount of rainfall is in the cards for southwest Louisiana, too.
The rain and floods have been blamed in at least two deaths.
Even as the water rose yesterday, the U.S. National Weather Service issued an ominous forecast: before the storm is gone, some parts of Houston and its suburbs could get as much as 50 inches (1.3 metres) of rain.
That would be the highest amount ever recorded in Texas.
This morning, emergency vehicles made up most of the traffic in an otherwise deserted downtown Houston–normally a bustling business area.
Many traffic signals did not work and most businesses were closed.
Residents living near the Addicks and Barker reservoirs–designed to prevent flooding in downtown Houston–were warned yesterday that a controlled release from both reservoirs would cause additional street flooding that could spill into homes.
Rising water levels and continuing rain was putting pressure on the dams that could fail without the release.
Harris and Fort Bend county officials advised residents to pack their cars last night and leave in the morning.
“When the sun comes up, get out,” said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist for the Harris County Flood Control District.
“And you don’t have to go far,” he added. “You just need to get out of this area.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started the reservoir releases before 2 a.m. today–ahead of schedule–because water levels were increasing at a rate of more than six inches (15 cm) per hour, Corps spokesman Jay Townsend said.
Officials in Fort Bend County, Houston’s southwestern suburbs, late yesterday issued mandatory evacuation orders along the Brazos River levee districts.
County officials were preparing for the river to reach major flood stages late yesterday.
County Judge Robert Herbert said at a news conference that National Weather Service officials were predicting the water could rise to 59 feet [18 metres], three feet (90 cm) above 2016 records and what Herbert called an “800-year flood level.”
Herbert said that amount of water would top the levees and carries a threat of levee failure.
Yesterday, incessant rain covered much of Houston in turbid, grey-green water and turned streets into rivers navigable only by boat.
In a rescue effort that recalled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, helicopters landed near flooded freeways, airboats buzzed across submerged neighbourhoods, and high-water vehicles plowed through water-logged intersections.
Some people managed with kayaks or canoes, or swam.
Volunteers joined emergency teams in pulling people from their homes or from the water.
Authorities urged people to get on top of their houses to avoid becoming trapped in attics and to wave sheets or towels to draw attention to their location.
Police Chief Art Acevedo said today that drainage remains a concern.
“I’m not sure where the water is going because it’s just so much that we can’t really absorb more in the ground at this point,” he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“We have way too much water and not enough places for it to drain.”
And on the possibility of the rain subsiding, Acevedo said: “We’re just keeping our fingers crossed”
Long, meanwhile, predicted the aftermath of the storm would require FEMA’s involvement for years.
“This disaster’s going to be a landmark event,” Long warned.
The National Weather Service, meanwhile, warned the catastrophic flooding would worsen due to heavy rainfall in the coming days and that it would be slow to recede once Harvey finally moves on.
Director Louis Uccellini said during a news conference today that up to 20 inches [51 cm] of rain could fall in the coming days, on top of the more than 30 inches (76 cm) some places already have seen.
The White House said President Donald Trump would visit Texas tomorrow.
He met yesterday by teleconference with top administration officials to discuss federal support for response and recovery efforts.
The rescues unfolded a day after Harvey settled over the Texas coastline.
By early Monday, the storm had shifted a little closer to the coast, hovering about 20 miles (30 km) east of Victoria, with sustained winds of about 40 m.p.h. (65 km/h).
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it continued to edge in a southeasterly direction at three m.p.h. (4.8 km/h).
Harvey was the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in 13 years and the strongest to strike Texas since 1961’s Hurricane Carla–the most powerful Texas hurricane on record.