HOUS­TON: Me­an­der­ing storm spawns tor­na­does as parts of re­gion evac­u­ated

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Col­lette, Ja­cob Car­pen­ter and St. John Barned-Smith

Tor­na­does spawned by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey dam­aged more than 50 homes in Fort Bend County, struck a com­mer­cial cen­ter near Katy and tore through Cy­press, while parts of the Hous­ton re­gion evac­u­ated ahead of record river floods and braced for tor­ren­tial rains.

Af­ter a day of rel­a­tive calm, sev­eral inches of rain dumped on al­ready swollen bay­ous and trig­gered flood­ing across the city late Sun­day, forc­ing dozens of wa­ter res­cues and road clo­sures in the dark of night. City of­fi­cials were re­port­ing that a fe­male driver died when floodwaters over­came her car but didn’t pro­vide any de­tails on what they called an un­con­firmed re­port. The down­pour trig­gered the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice’s most dire warn­ing — a flash flood emer­gency for south and south­west Hous­ton, parts of east Fort Bend County and north­west Bra­zo­ria County.

Fore­cast­ers said Har­vey, vir­tu­ally stalled south­east of San An­to­nio and down­graded Satur­day to a trop­i­cal storm, could drift east or head back south,

and the dif­fer­ence in paths could mean even higher rain­fall to­tals for Hous­ton, or a rel­a­tively calm pe­riod.

“This storm is slow­mov­ing, or not mov­ing — it’s me­an­der­ing. We are go­ing to be deal­ing with it and its rem­nants for the next 48 to 72 hours,” said Jeff Lind­ner, the county flood con­trol district’s me­te­o­rol­o­gist.

One lo­cal fore­cast es­ti­mated be­tween 8 and 10 inches of rain could fall in some parts by Sun­day morn­ing.

The west and north­west parts of the county, like up­per Lit­tle Cy­press Creek and Mayde Creek near Green­house, al­ready had high wa­ter and were es­pe­cially at risk, Lind­ner said.

Un­der­scor­ing Har­vey’s breadth and un­pre­dictabil­ity, the twisters hap­pened up to 140 miles away from the cen­ter of the down­graded trop­i­cal storm.

One in Cy­press skipped like a stone on wa­ter, leav­ing a ran­dom, bro­ken trail of dam­age.

Charles Crit­ten­den, 43, stared at the rain from his house in the Lone Oak Vil­lage sub­di­vi­sion when a fun­nel cloud dropped out of the sky and hit his roof, peel­ing off shin­gles, ply­wood, and tar pa­per.

He yelled “get in the hall­way,” to his wife, Beth, 51.

“That’s where ev­ery­thing went fly­ing,” he said, point­ing at a muddy patch in his yard. It tossed his ATV and two 500-pound logs into the air.

A tor­nado also hit Lone Star Col­lege and the nearby Berry com­plex, with an event cen­ter and sta­dium, scat­ter­ing trees and de­bris.

Michael Miller, 32, who lives sev­eral blocks over, looked out of his house around 4 p.m. and saw sta­dium seats fly­ing.

“It was huge,” he said, as his phone blared yet an­other tor­nado warn­ing. “Ev­ery­thing was up in the air.”

Across the sub­di­vi­sion, where other homes also had been hit, roofers scaled roof lines, throw­ing down tarps, ply­wood and other ma­te­ri­als to block the rain.

The weather ser­vice logged seven tor­na­does, and there were sev­eral more prob­a­ble twisters that were not of­fi­cially con­firmed. Two struck Galve­ston, Texas City and La Mar­que on Fri­day, four hit north­west Har­ris County be­tween 4 and 5 p.m. Satur­day, and one downed trees and ripped up parts of homes in the Mis­souri City sub­di­vi­sion of Si­enna Plan­ta­tion early Satur­day.

That tor­nado hit around 12:50 a.m.

In Katy, a sus­pected tor­nado at about 5:30 a.m. tossed trail­ers like toys and pushed over a bill­board at a boat and RV stor­age busi­ness. “We have two busi­nesses here on the prop­erty — or we did,” said man­ager B.J. Prendergast as he sur­veyed the dam­age at Boat and Stor­age and Trailer World of Katy on In­ter­state 10 near FM 1463.

“And out of nowhere, de­bris just ex­ploded,” Pred­er­gast said.

The high winds sheared off the front sec­tion of the ware­house like a tin can. A tree branch flew about 500 feet and slammed into the wrought iron fence.

Har­ris County Sher- iff Ed Gon­za­lez said on Twitter that four tor­na­does touched down in the Cy­press area dur­ing the 4 p.m. hour, but some of those re­ports were likely the same twister, other of­fi­cials said. The weather ser­vice con­firmed the first tor­nado touched down at 4 p.m. near Cy­press Ranch High School and moved to­ward Hock­ley, Waller and Todd Mis­sion.

Some homes suf­fered “ex­ten­sive dam­age” in the Lone Oak Sub­di­vi­sion, and other build­ings in Black Horse Ranch; Fry Road at Cy­press North Hous­ton Road; and be­tween Tuck­er­ton and West roads also had dam­age, Gon­za­lez said.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice is­sued about 70 tor­nado warn­ings in the area Satur­day.

Har­vey’s strong winds set in mo­tion smaller vor­texes, re­sult­ing in fre­quent but brief tor­na­does, which will con­tinue through Mon­day, said Melissa Huff­man, a weather ser­vice me­te­o­rol­o­gist in Hous­ton.

No in­juries were re­ported in the tor­na­does, and the lone con­firmed fa­tal­ity from Har­vey re­mained a per­son who was trapped in a home in Rock­port as the storm made land­fall Fri­day night on the coast about 190 miles south­east of Hous­ton, ac­cord­ing to Aransas County Judge Burt Mills.

Among the great­est dan­gers fac­ing the Hous­ton re­gion, the Bra­zos and Colorado rivers and their trib­u­taries are ex­pected to sur­pass decades-old records with life-threat­en­ing floods in an area swamped just 14 months ago.

Bra­zo­ria County of­fi­cials ex­pect the Bra­zos to crest at roughly the same level it did in June 2016, when hun­dreds of res­i­dences were flooded, some for nearly two weeks. It all but spared the most pop­u­lated parts of cen­tral and south­ern Bra­zo­ria County — An­gle­ton, Lake Jack­son, Freeport — but left res­i­dents in more ru­ral ar­eas stranded. Those re­gions are home to a mix of trail­ers, di­lap­i­dated small houses and larger sin­gle­fam­ily res­i­dences.

Fed­eral pro­jec­tions show the river near Rosharon is ex­pected to reach 51 feet by Mon­day morn­ing, crest­ing at about 52.5 feet on Mon­day night. It was at 26 feet Satur­day night, hav­ing risen nearly 20 feet in the past day.

State pri­son of­fi­cials evac­u­ated about 4,500 in­mates by bus from the Ram­sey, Ter­rell and Stringfel­low units in Rosharon, send­ing them to other pris­ons in East Texas.

Bra­zo­ria County Judge Matt Sebesta told res­i­dents along the river to evac­u­ate. Hol­i­day Lakes, a town of 350 house­holds west of An­gle­ton, is­sued a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der. About 95 per­cent of Hol­i­day Lakes house­holds were flooded last year.

“We’re just go­ing to do what we can and hope they miss their pre­dic­tion,” Hol­i­day Lakes Mayor Nor­man Schroeder said.

The San Bernard River in western Bra­zo­ria County is also un­der vol­un­tary orders. The river is ex­pected to hit 34.2 feet — 10 feet higher than the pre­vi­ous record — by Thurs­day.

As the storm briefly qui­eted Satur­day morn­ing, fear­ful res­i­dents re­called the havoc of 2016.

Megan Tur­ney, 60, said she didn’t leave her home for 12 days, at one point re­ceiv­ing bread, milk and beer from a neigh­bor who

kayaked about 4 miles. Al­though her house, a few miles east of the Bra­zos River, avoided ma­jor dam­age, she could hear ef­forts to reach res­i­dents in flooded homes.

“It sounded like a war zone be­cause ev­ery­body was go­ing out with air boats and get­ting peo­ple out of Hol­i­day Lakes,” Tur­ney said.

The 2016 flood brought a thick film of mud that caked many homes, along with some un­wanted guests, said Martin Schrott, who man­ages about 40 prop­er­ties along Mann Lake.

“Last year, I stepped on a damn ga­tor in the wa­ter,” he said. “I’m not walk­ing around out here at night again.”

Disa Schulze, the mayor pro tem of Hol­i­day Lakes, said some res­i­dents were able to re­build us­ing in­sur­ance money, but home­own­ers who skipped in­sur­ance plans were just start­ing to re­cover, “and now we’re fix­ing to have to start all over again.”

Ray­mond Romo, 55, lost his child­hood home in the Rosen­berg area last year to the flood­ing. He bought an RV and had been liv­ing in it, parked in what was once the home’s drive­way.

“Here we are again,” he said, eye­ing the ris­ing river.

Whar­ton County urged peo­ple to evac­u­ate ar­eas sur­round­ing the Colorado, San Bernard and East Bernard rivers, the lat­ter of which could top the 1960 record by 4 inches. The East and West Mus­tang creeks near Ganado also are pro­jected to break records.

“If you have flooded in any past flood, this is higher than all of them,” the county’s emer­gency man­age­ment of­fice warned on so­cial me­dia.

In Hous­ton, Green­s­point res­i­dents kept a ner­vous eye on the wa­ter cours­ing through their lo­cal bayou, re­mem­ber­ing last year’s cat­a­strophic flood­ing.

The low-in­come neigh­bor­hood of ag­ing apart­ment com­plexes and charm­less busi­ness parks south of Bush In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Air­port is just now re­cov­er­ing from the 2016 Tax Day flood that in­un­dated some 2,000 area apart­ments, some of which still await re­pair.

Har­vey could bring a re­peat, res­i­dents wor­ried, but at least this storm left them time to pre­pare — buy food, move cars, clean ditches.

Mau­rice Lewis, 35, wor­ried mostly about his car as he stood in his apart­ment’s park­ing lot, watch­ing wa­ter course down Greens Bayou.

“I can’t even say the feel­ing, just wish­ing that it’s all go­ing to get over with,” said Lewis, who moved from Hum­ble to his sec­ond floor Green­s­point apart­ment two weeks ago.

A mile down­stream, Nora Martinez, her 11-yearold son and their neigh­bor pressed their faces against a chain link fence, es­ti­mat­ing how much Greens Bayou could rise be­fore over­flow­ing.

Sev­eral feet to go, the 46-year-old mom thought.

“Truth is,” Martinez said in Span­ish, “I’m not afraid be­cause I’m a woman of faith. I trust the Lord will have mercy on his peo­ple.”

Min­utes later, how­ever, mem­o­ries of the del­uge that dis­placed many of her neigh­bors crept back.

“I’m a lit­tle scared be­cause I al­ready went through this,” Martinez ad­mit­ted.

Some Hous­to­ni­ans de­fied rec­om­men­da­tions to stay in­doors, like a woman danc­ing through Buf­falo Bayou Park, and Ja­son Hurns, who ex­er­cised nearby.

“This is the best time to work out,” he said. “Ev- ery­body is home, and I am here with the park just for my­self.”

While ar­eas on the coast near Har­vey’s land­fall have seen about 15 inches of rain, the Hous­ton re­gion had seen 5 to 10 inches through about 4 p.m.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of homes on Texas’ Gulf Coast were still with­out power on Satur­day af­ter­noon, while more than 170,000 cus­tomers in Hous­ton had their lights back on af­ter Har­vey was down­graded, ac­cord­ing to trans­mis­sion com­pa­nies and the state’s grid op­er­a­tor.

United Air­lines an­nounced Satur­day af­ter­noon that it is sus­pend­ing flights out of Hous­ton to non-hub air­ports. That rep­re­sents about 300 depar­tures.

Of­fi­cials at the city’s two ma­jor air­ports re­ported more than 500 can­celled flights and dozens of de­lays.

South­west Air­lines said it is op­er­at­ing about 50 per­cent of its nor­mal sched­ule Satur­day and Sun­day.

Both South­west and United have travel waivers in place. Kather­ine Blunt, Re­becca El­liott, Lind­say El­lis, Emily Fox­hall, Mike Glenn, Ryan Maye Handy, John D. Har­den, An­drew Kragie, Brooke A. Lewis, An­drea Rum­baugh, Olivia P. Tal­let and Shelby Webb con­trib­uted to this re­port. mark.col­lette@chron.com ja­cob.car­pen­ter@chron.com st.john.smith@chron.com

Melissa Phillip / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Cen­terPoint crews work to re­pair lines along the Katy Free­way near FM 1463 af­ter a pos­si­ble tor­nado spawned by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey on Satur­day.

Karen War­ren / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Friends and fam­ily help load Anice Di­vin’s be­long­ings into a horse trailer to take them to a stor­age unit as she pre­pared to evac­u­ate her Richmond home.

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