Rains continued to plague SE Texas along the Gulf Coast Tuesday, as flood waters climbed to historic levels and reservoirs overtopped, inundating neighborhoods, requiring thousands to be rescued and transported to temporary shelters.
Ironically, Tuesday marked the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a storm that devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi coastal region, areas still recovering, and foreshadowed the uphill challenges faced by those in Harvey’s path.
But Tuesday was not the time to contemplate the future. This was a day of action, a day to respond. Water-filled streets and expressways were hubs of activity as police and military boats mixed with civilian volunteers who brought personal watercraft, rafts, and other flotation devices, to help rescue Houstonians from homes and submerged vehicles.
After hundreds of water rescues, informal logistics organized by good samaritans ensured people were waiting to aid those just plucked from their homes, to get them out of boats, and transported to the nearest shelters.
The National Weather Service estimated some 6 million people in SE Texas were impacted by water depths of 30 inches or more, and at 3PM Tuesday a new rainfall record was set for a single event in the continental United States, as 51.88″ of precipitation was measured in Highlands, Texas.
Most eyes were on Houston’s Addicks and Barker Reservoirs yesterday, as these two repositories reached capacity. Floodgates on both were open to discharge 60,000 gallons of water per second, but with persistent rainfall this failed to bleed off sufficient amounts to prevent the Addicks Reservoir from overtopping.
This sent rapidly rising water levels into neighborhoods that were not in flood plains. As water reached the second floor stubborn residents hung out windows to draw attention of passing boaters.
Rescuers pleaded with residents to hang white sheets out windows, so they could more easily identify those needing help. Boat drivers suggested evacuees be prepared to leave, have belongings already bagged and be ready to step on the boats, because there was no shortage of people needing rescue, but space was limited, and sundown was coming too fast.
A huge help in meeting the need of the more than 19,000 water rescues in the Houston area was the Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers from Louisiana that know a lot about severe weather, and bring their boats en-masse to save lives.
Without groups like the Cajun Navy, and all the locals putting in their boats, the elderly and infirm, the young and the weak, would be forced to climb onto their roofs, or wade into the chest-high water. There was a nasty current evident in the spill-off from the reservoir and overtopped runoff, and reports that snakes, alligators and spiders were present in the water.
Local officials in Texas have reported at least 30 confirmed and suspected flood-related deaths. Included in that total is Houston police sergeant, Steve Perez, who was missing since early Sunday morning. A tearful Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo stated Perez spent 2 1/2 hours trying to find his way into work before driving his vehicle into an underpass flooded with 16 1/2 feet of water. He drowned as a result. His body was recovered by divers early Tuesday morning.
As Tropical Storm Harvey shifted east, making landfall today in Cameron, LA, skies cleared in Houston only to find torrential downpours moved in on the Beaumont/Port Arthur region of Texas. Unlike Houston, where it was large enough to have some amount of passable roads, Beaumont is submerged, with no way in or out.
The focus of first responders shifted to the Beaumont area, where 26.44″ of rain fell in a 24-hour period. With roads impassable, the burden fell to the National Guard and Coast Guard to airlift stranded residents. Officials there are requesting anyone with available boats to help with search and rescue.
With waterways filled beyond capacity across SE Texas and major roads, bridges and buildings inundated by many feet of water for days, officials warned of compromised infrastructure. Levee failures were expected, and have begun in the Beaumont area.
To gain a full appreciation of the disaster, President Trump flew to Corpus Christi for an official update. His visit could have gone better. There was no stopping by flooded homes, no looking at devastated downtowns, no visiting of relief shelters, no reassurance to displaced residents, or messages of faith. He and the First Lady did a quick storm update with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, FEMA, the Coast Guard, and several other agency heads before flying to Austin to view a command center.
Trump looked more interested in soaking up platitudes and demonstrating he knew officials’ names to match with faces around the table than offer any constructive contribution to his visit. A brief impromptu speech was delivered by Trump to the outside crowd assembled, where the president held up the Texas flag to appreciative cheers.
I give the guy credit for coming down there. Texas is hurting and they need a hug. We’ll see if the Trumpster has the patience and attention span to handle the enormity of Harvey. There was an empathy and understanding absent from Trump’s remarks. He recognized the important people around the table, cabinet secretaries, congressmen, senators; there were promises of monetary relief – but nothing, not one word about the dead or those displaced – not one “Thank You” to first responders.
I could see him looking around, with Melania in her faux-aviator fashion outfit (and perfect makeup), assessing the possibility of securing a “victory” out of handling this disaster.
After considerable criticism yesterday into this afternoon, Trump had remarks drafted that hit the missing high marks he could read off a teleprompter at a Missouri rally.
Next week the fun really begins. The Texas congressional delegation will need to request tens of billions of dollars for recovery. Problem is many of these same politicians balked at passing funding for SuperStorm Sandy victims. Texas took a hard stance at demanding offsetting cuts for any money designated to Sandy relief.
Trump warmed that he would not sign a budget, which must be passed in September to keep the government open, if there was not border wall money included. A government shutdown would be devastating to Texas and Louisiana a month from now. Yet some version of a budget must be passed, and the increase of America’s debt ceiling requires confirmation. Currently $667 million is proposed to be cut from FEMA’s budget. That is a hard argument to make when FEMA is on the ground responding to Harvey.
It took 10 months to pass a funding package for SuperStorm Sandy. Texas is a Republican stronghold, it better come quicker for Trump.
Playing out at the same time will be residents coming to the realization that their homeowner’s insurance policies DO NOT cover floods. For those not residing in flood plains, and never considered getting flood insurance, this will be a problem. One-in-six living in the Houston have flood insurance.
I must say the overwhelming response by Texans, first responders, Gov. Abbott, and the military to name a few, has been remarkable. The selfless display of heroism, courage and kindness was inspirational during a time in America when there is so much divisiveness. The American spirit and the morals this country was built upon remain intact. It may take a hurricane to clear away the political antagonism, but our fabric is strong.
A big shout out to the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and all the church groups who have mobilized to accomplish their roles and bring an incredible amount of aid and comfort to an exasperated Texas population.
The recovery from Hurricane Harvey will take months and years. It will take a village to make it happen. But perhaps this is a rallying point for citizens across the country to come together and remember the values that make America great.
For assistance or to make donations:
Red Cross: 1-800-Red Cross (733-2767) | Text HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 Donation
The Salvation Army: 1-800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769)