HOUSTON: Meandering storm spawns tornadoes as parts of region evacuated
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. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
CenterPoint crews work to repair lines along the Katy Freeway near FM 1463 after a possible tornado spawned by Hurricane Harvey on Saturday.
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.