Texas water levels rise, causing panic and chaos
— Floodwaters reached the rooflines of single-story homes Monday and people could be heard pleading for help from inside as Harvey poured rain on the Houston area for a fourth consecutive day after a chaotic weekend of rising water and rescues.
The nation’s fourth-largest city remained mostly paralyzed by one of the largest downpours in U.S. history. And there was no relief in sight from the storm that spun into Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, then parked over the Gulf Coast. With nearly 2 more feet (61 centimeters) of rain expected on top of the 30-plus inches (76 centimeters) in some places, authorities worried that the worst might be yet to come.
Harvey has been blamed for at least three confirmed deaths, including a woman killed Monday in the town of Porter, northeast of Houston, when a large oak tree dislodged by heavy rains toppled onto her trailer home.
A Houston woman also said she presumes six members of a family, including four of her grandchildren, died after their van sank into Greens Bayou in East Houston.
Virginia Saldivar told the Associated Press her brother-in-law was driving the van Sunday when a strong current took the vehicle over a bridge and into the bayou. The driver was able to get out and urged the children to escape through the back door, Saldivar said, but they could not.
“I’m just hoping we find the bodies,” Saldivar said.
Houston emergency officials couldn’t confirm the deaths. But Police Chief Art Acevedo said he’s “really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find” amid the disaster, which unfolded on an epic scale in one of America’s most sprawling metropolitan centers.
The Houston metro area covers about 10,000 square miles, an area slightly bigger than New Jersey. It’s crisscrossed by about 1,700 miles of channels, creeks and bayous that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles to the southeast from downtown.
The storm is generating an amount of rain that would normally be seen only once in more than 1,000 years, said Edmond Russo, a deputy district engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, which was concerned that floodwater would spill around a pair of 70-year-old reservoir dams that protect downtown Houston.
The flooding was so widespread that the levels of city waterways have equaled or surpassed those of Tropical Storm Allison from 2001, and no major highway has been spared some overflow.
The city’s normally bustling business district was virtually deserted Monday, with emergency vehicles making up most of the traffic.
Rescuers continued plucking people from the floodwaters. Mayor Sylvester Turner put the number by police at more than 3,000. The Coast Guard said it also had rescued more than 3,000 by boat and air and was taking more than 1,000 calls her hour.
Chris Thorn was among the many volunteers still helping with the mass evacuation that began Sunday. He drove with a buddy from the Dallas area with their flat-bottom hunting boat to pull strangers out of the water.
“I couldn’t sit at home and watch it on TV and do nothing since I have a boat and all the tools to help,” he said.
They got to Spring, Texas, where Cypress Creek had breached Interstate 45 and went to work, helping people out of a gated community near the creek.
“It’s never flooded here,” Lane Cross said from the front of Thorn’s boat, holding his brown dog, Max. “I don’t even have flood insurance.”
A mandatory evacuation was ordered for the low-lying Houston suburb of Dickinson, home to 20,000. Police cited the city’s fragile infrastructure in the floods, limited working utilities and concern about the weather forecast.
In Houston, questions continued to swirl about why the mayor did not issue a similar evacuation order.
Turner has repeatedly defended the decision and did so again Monday, insisting that a mass evacuation of millions of people by car was a greater risk than enduring the storm.
Residents wade through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Beaumont Place, Houston, Texas, Monday.