HOUSTON: Flooding along key city bayou hits ‘catastrophic’ levels

HOUSTON: Flooding along key city bayou hits ‘catastrophic’ levels

1:15 a.m. update: The Army Corps of Engineers began to open two far west Harris County dams hours ahead of schedule, which will eventually add a torrent of water — tens of thousands of gallons of water per second — onto an already flooded major city bayou.

Officials in Harris County opened the Addicks and Barker dams at 11:59 p.m., releasing 800 cubic feet of water per second, per second into a swollen Buffalo Bayou, which has already spilled over its banks and into neighborhoods across Houston. That relative trickle will build to a gusher over the next 6 to 8 hours, eventually topping out at 8,000 cubic feet of water — roughly 60,000 gallons — of water flowing into the bayou every second.

The Corps opened both dams far earlier than the 2 a.m. opening initially planned for Addicks and nearly 12 hours before the 11 a.m. time initially scheduled for Barker.

“There’s just the changing weather conditions,” said Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Randy Cephus, pinning the dramatic timetable change to heavy rains to the north. “More recent modeling led us to make this decision at this time.”

At an earlier news conference, Harris County officials said the influx of additional water into the bayou would only amount to a marginal increase in the amount of water already flowing.

11:10 p.m. update: The rain came and came across Houston on Sunday night, letting up for only a brief respite before returning with a vengeance — and pushing flooding along a key city bayou to “catastrophic” levels, authorities said.

“Buffalo Bayou at (West Beltway 8) is 7.28 ft above flood stage,” Jeff Lindner, one of Harris County government’s top meteorologists tweeted. “Catastrophic flooding is in progress.”

The dire warning from one of Houston’s top forecasters came as Tropical Storm Harvey’s bands of thunderstorms continued to pummel Houston, dropping more than four inches of rain in many neighborhoods across the city this evening alone, totals that will only grow as the night wears on.

That precipitation comes on top of morning rains, which came on top of 15-25 inches of overnight rain, which came on top of the few inches that fell Friday and Saturday — all of which have compounded to result in the massive flooding that have devastated broad swaths of the city.

The damage even extends to one of Houston’s treasured performing arts centers — its opera house. KHOU-TV confirmed rumors that flood waters had the first main stages of the Wortham Theater Center, which is home to both the Houston Ballet and the Houston Grand Opera.

10:30 p.m. update: Authorities ordered a voluntary partial evacuation of a subdivision in northern Harris County late Sunday as a nearby creek threatens to top its levy as soon as sunrise Monday morning.

The order covers residents who live north of Kingsbridge Road in the Inverness Forest Subdivision, which is located along FM1960, between Interstate 45 and the Hardy Toll Road, near George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

If Cypress Creek tops the levy, officials believe it could cause flooding that is up to 8 feet deep in places.

8:48 p.m. update: The Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday evening it will begin a controlled release from two suburban flood control reservoirs in far west Harris County, in a move to prevent possible damage to the dams but could worsen flooding in already waterlogged West and Central Houston neighborhoods.

Harris County authorities have ordered voluntary evacuations for the subdivisions that directly abut the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, but emphasized there would be no need for mass evacuations from entire suburbs. The Addicks release is scheduled to begin Monday at 2a.m.; while the Barker release is set to begin Monday at 11 a.m.

“If the Corps of Engineers does not do controlled releases, that gets into a situation where there could potentially be a problem at the dam and that is something you don’t want to have happen,” said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District. “The worst outcome is if the releases are not made.”

Engineers need to open the dams as a sort of pressure release valve because of the tremendous force the rapidly-swelling reservoirs have placed them. However, Lindner said the water would still be flowing into the reservoirs more rapidly than the Corps of Engineers releases it, which will result in flooding in the subdivisions near the reservoirs.

The release will also put more water into the already swollen Buffalo Bayou, which has flooded neighborhoods across West and Central Houston. While officials could not say exactly how much it could exacerbate that flooding, Linder said the increase would likely be marginal compared to the amount of water already moving through it.

6:32 p.m. update: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters this evening that about 1,000 residents, some in wet clothing, have checked in to the George R. Brown Convention Center, which the city opened as a shelter today with Tropical Storm Harvey continuing to pour rain.

“Please help us out,” Turner appealed, by not driving Houston’s roads with, he said, six inches to 10 inches of additional rain expected overnight.

Turner said too that 22 aircraft, including 16 provided by the Coast Guard, were employed during the day to spot residents waving for help from rooftops. Turner also tallied boats and high-water vehicles contributing to rescues.

“We have a number of needs that exist across the city,” Turner said, calling for Houstonians to be patient as the storm continues to affect the Bayou City for, he suggested, up to five days.

Turner added: “We know that the aftermath is going to require a lot of attention, a lot of effort, to bring people back to a sense of normalcy.”

Asked afresh if he regretted not ordering a mandatory evacuation of Houston, Turner said not.

5:45 p.m. update: By phone, Harris County’s chief elected official reaffirmed this afternoon that the county wants to hear from individuals with boats and vehicles that could be used—and soon—to rescue Houston-area residents threatened by rising waters.

Ed Emmett, the Harris County judge, said the outreach for such specific help, coordinated by the county’s fire marshal, had already resulted in hundreds of volunteers. Emmett said he couldn’t immediately estimate the number of boats or high-water vehicles temporarily committed to search-and-rescues.

Another county official, Chris Daniel, earlier posted this message on Facebook: “Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is asking for all Houston and surrounding area residents with boats or high-water vehicles to please call 713-881-3100 to help with rescue of people in neighborhoods before nightfall. Groups that need transport to shelters that are already on high ground (not individuals) are asked to call 713-426-9404 – a bus will be routed to your area.”

5:35 p.m. update: Gov. Greg Abbott spoke with MSNBC today, indicating he expects President Donald Trump to visit Texas someplace away from ongoing rescue efforts.

“I have spoken with the White House multiple times. I want you to know that the White House is very engaged and very hands on in helping the state of Texas. The location where the president is flying into will be out of harm’s way, will not be associated with where the storm will be at that time,” Abbott said. “It will be in an area where my Texas Department of Transportation is already involved in the cleanup as well as local authorities. So there is part of the state that is already on the pathway to healing while another part of the state is still suffering through immense damage.”

“I’ve spoken with the president and he’s been very supportive of our efforts and he’s provided tremendous aid to us. I’ve spoken both with his FEMA director and as the director Homeland Security. They are both fully engaged and very helpful,” Abbott said.

Abbott called offered help from Mexico “very important,” noting that he’d spoken with the office of Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, as well as officials from U.S. states—including New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.

Abbott predicted that when Trump comes to Texas, he’ll “see great damage. He will, I think, be going close to where the hurricane came across land and there’s great devastation there. And he may even be able to see the flooding that’s taking place in Houston, Texas. And it’s just total devastation. And it will break his heart and it will humble him like it humbles all of us and I know it will spur him to be very helpful to our fellow Texans,” Abbott said.

5:16 p.m. update: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, says he appealed today to federal officials for “additional assets” vital to successful water rescue efforts as Tropical Storm Harvey hovers over his home city, Houston.

Cruz said in an interview by phone with Fox News that he asked FEMA for more flat-bottom boats, high-water vehicles and helicopters. “We are leaning hard and,” Cruz said, “we are getting enthusiastic cooperation.”

Cruz said that while his family home hasn’t flooded, he’s stunned by the waters rising elsewhere in Houston.

“I grew up, spent my whole life in Houston, and I’ve never seen anything like what we’re experiencing right now,” Cruz said.

4:07 p.m. update: Like news organizations including CNN and the Dallas Morning News, we have in hand a statement from the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, confirming that President Donald Trump plans to visit Texas on Tuesday.

Sanders said: “The President will travel to Texas on Tuesday. We are coordinating logistics with state and local officials, and once details are finalized, we will let you know. We continue to keep all of those affected in our thoughts and prayers.”

3:45 p.m. update: American-Statesman videographer Tina Phan’s video of Gov. Greg Abbott shows he told reporters in Austin today:

—“Obviously this is a very large disaster.”

—Tropical Storm Harvey is greatly affecting residents of a giant triangle stretching from Corpus Christi on the Gulf of Mexico to Travis County to Chambers County back to Corpus Christi. Some 250 roads have been closed in the same region. To check on closures, go to this web link.

—“Texans need to be prepared for more rainfall tonight—on occasion, very heavy rainfall.”

—Stay on, or get to, high ground. “Whether you’re on ground or in a building, try to get as high as you can.”

—“This likely is going to be an historic rainfall, if not an all-time record in the amount of rain that is sustained in certain regions.”

—Rescue assistance has come in from federal agencies and the states of Nebraska, Tennessee, Utah, California, Missouri, Ohio, Arizona and New York.

—Texas Parks & Wildlife Department wardens helped in 19 water rescues in Bastrop County on Saturday.

—To make a donation, call 1-800-REDCROSS or go to this web link.

2:45 p.m. update: President Donald Trump plans to visit a Texas site—which one, to be determined—on Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News says:

2:40 p.m. update: A Coast Guard commander, Karl Schultz, said this afternoon no one should presume the worst effects of Tropical Storm Harvey have passed.

Schultz, joining Gov. Greg Abbott at a state emergency center in Austin, told reporters: “This is a very very dangerous storm with catastrophic circumstances.”

“We are in for a very significant water event in the coming days,” Schultz said.

Schultz said the Coast Guard had already sent out eight helicopters to search for people needing assistance as bands of rain persist and another eight are coming. Also, Schultz said, “we’re putting more boats out on the water from all parts of the country.”

2:25 p.m update: Gov. Greg Abbott this afternoon said the state seeks federal designation of additional counties for disaster declarations potentially enabling faster relief.

Abbott said he’s asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to add 12 Texas counties to presidential disaster declarations granted last week in advance of Hurricane Harvey’s arrival.

Now, Abbott said, “many parts of Eastern Texas, especially in and around Houston, are experiencing historic flooding causing the need to grow for additional resources.”

Counties that were already granted the designation: Bee, Goliad, Kleberg, Nueces, San Patricio, and Refugio counties.

Abbott, who earlier designated 50 counties as state disaster zones, seeks disaster declarations for these additional counties: Aransas, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Jackson, Liberty, Matagorda, Victoria and Wharton.

Abbott, addressing reporters at a state emergency action center, listed out state “assets” including aircraft, ambulances and boats dispatched to help Texans slammed by Tropical Storm Harvey, declaring: “We are still moving hundreds of evacuees to safe locations” across the region stretching from Corpus Christi north into Houston. “Our top priority is to protect human life,” Abbott said.

Buses are lined up to haul residents of Houston to safety, Abbott said, and food relief will be delivered starting Monday in Rockport, Port Aransas, Aransas Pass, Ingleside and Portland, all of them towns inundated by high winds and water as then-Hurricane Harvey came ashore Friday into Saturday. Referring to local residents, Abbott said: “They now know the cavalry is coming.”

Abbott indicated he wasn’t ready to address decisions by local officials, in some cases, not to order residents to evacuate in advance of the hurricane’s arrival. “Now is not the time to second-guess the decisions that were made,” Abbott said.

Asked to comment on reports that Houston-area authorities are running light on rescue boats and high-water vehicles, Abbott replied: “We’re providing to Houston every asset they’ve asked for,” including about 20 air assets, he said, 60 boats and “countless” high-water vehicles. The governor said too the state stands ready to provide more on request.

1:49 p.m. update: The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told a newspaper today Hurricane Harvey may add up to the worst disaster to hit Texas—ever.

“This will be a devastating disaster, probably the worst disaster the state’s seen,” William “Brock” Long, confirmed as FEMA’s administrator in June, told The Washington Post in an interview. “The recovery to this event is going to last many years, to be able to help Texas and the people impacted by this event achieve a new normal,” Long said.

1:13 p.m. update: A Williamson County town has the existing rainfall record, Michael Barnes of the Austin American-Statesman noted in this reminder.

Thirty-eight inches of rain fell in Thrall, east of Taylor, in a little more than 18 hours in September 1921. The floods ran quickly off baked prairie soil to inundate Brushy and Salado creeks, as well as the San Gabriel and Little rivers. People had scant chance to escape; more than 170 Central Texans died.

1:06 p.m. update: Jenna Bush Hager ranks among many urging donations to the Red Cross. Her tweet today:

12:41 p.m. update: Harris County emergency officials made a plea for people with rescue boats:

12:35 p.m. update: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced the evacuation of Ben Taub Hospital at a midday press conference where he also said residents need to help one another.

As recapped by the Houston Chronicle, Emmett also said help is coming into the Houston from state and federal officials, but for the interim local residents need to rely on one another.

“We cannot wait for assets to come from outside,” Emmett said.

As water drenches the region, he said equipment such as boats and high water vehicles cannot get into the area.

“We are asking the public to help,” Emmett said. “We need your help.

12:24 p.m. update: Houston’s KHOU is reporting that Harris County’s Ben Taub Hospital is being evacuated:

12:15 p.m. update: The National Weather Service predicts up to 50 inches of rain in some places:

11:55 a.m. update: After spotting unconfirmed reports of water seeping into a major Houston hospital, we asked the Harris County Health System about the status of Ben Taub Hospital. The tweeted reply, indicating some water getting in but not a dire emergency. “”Patient care is ongoing,” the system said, “but no new patients can get in.”

11:49 a.m. update: Brazoria County is ordering some residents to evacuate, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The newspaper says Brazoria County officials have issued a mandatory evacuation order for all areas west of Texas 288 and south of Texas 6, covering roughly the entire western half of the county.

“We’re asking your citizens to please pack your things and evacuate now,” Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta was quoted saying. County officials said people should leave the area via Texas 35 west, then take Texas 71 north to Interstate 10.

11:31 a.m. update: Gov. Greg Abbott will update the state on conditions and you can watch on the American-Statesman site here. Abbott is expected to speak within the half hour.

11:20 a.m. update: In a fresh briefing, the National Weather Service says Tropical Storm Harvey is on a path to travel southeast before looping back ashore—Tuesday into Wednesday.

The service says the storm is now centered near Cuero in Southeast Texas and “will continue southeast and emerge just offshore of the Mid Texas coast Monday night. Harvey is then forecast to make a loop and come back onshore into Southeast Texas Tuesday into Wednesday as a” tropical storm, the service says.

Some parts might see less rainfall than feared, the service says.

“Some drier air has worked into the southwest and west side of Harvey, and when combined with the more easterly track we anticipate slightly lower rainfall amounts across the I-35 corridor near San Antonio,” the service says, though heavy rainfalls in bands north and east of the storm could produce life-threatening flash floods—with the greatest threat east of I-35 and I-37.”

11:13 a.m. update: The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center will continue to treat patients, a spokesman says this morning, though flooding poses challenges.

From Brette Peyton: “ALL MD Anderson Cancer Center locations will remain closed for outpatient services and appointments, as well as surgeries, on Sunday, Aug. 27, and Monday, Aug. 28, due to severe weather in the Houston area. Only inpatient hospital care areas will remain active. If there are immediate medical needs, patients should access care at their local hospitals. Patient appointments will be rescheduled once the weather emergency has been resolved.

“Currently, roads around the Texas Medical Center Campus are impassable. Patients and staff should not attempt to travel,” Peyton said.

11:10 a.m. update:

Gov. Greg Abbott responds to a person asking how to help, on Twitter:

11:05 a.m. update:

This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced. Follow orders from officials to ensure safety. #Harvey pic.twitter.com/IjpWLey1h8— NWS (@NWS) August 27, 2017

10:55 a.m. update: Texan Michael McCaul told Fox News in a morning interview that all Texas ports are closed except the one in Brownsville. Rep. McCaul, R-Austin, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, further credited Gov. Greg Abbott and President Donald Trump with identifying counties for federal disaster declarations before Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast.

“This has been one of the best responses to one of the worst hurricanes I’ve seen in my lifetime hit the coast of Texas,” McCaul said, adding that up to two feet more of rain could hit Houston. McCaul was interviewed the same morning that President Trump tweeted out praise for hurricane responses in Texas.

10:31 a.m. update: Exxon Mobil is shutting down the nation’s second-largest refining complex in Baytown as the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey wreaks havoc, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The Baytown campus, which also produces petrochemicals, can churn out up to 560,000 barrels of fuel a day, a major source of the Gulf Coast and nation’s gasoline supplies. “Safety is our first priority, and we have taken all the precautions to minimize impact to community and employees throughout the shutdown process,” Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Suann Guthrie said.

Previously, refineries were shuttered temporarily in Corpus Christi by Valero Energy, Citgo Petroleum and Flint Hills Resources and Harvey prepared to make landfall. Now Houston refining corridor is beginning to close.

More than 25 percent of the nation’s fuel supplies are produced just along the Texas Gulf Coast.

10:01 a.m. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner just said: “The flooding has occurred all over.” He reminded too that the rains are expected to persist over several days. “Every bayou went over its banks.”

Turner said some 40 rescue boats are expected through the day. He said too the city will continue to open as many rescue shelters as needed and the George R. Brown Convention Center has been opened to people in need as well.

“If you are there and need help, we will get to you,” Turner said.

Turner defended his decision not to earlier order a mandatory evacuation of Houston. Doing so would have touched off an exit traffic-clogged “nightmare,” Turner said. (Before the hurricane made landfall, Gov. Greg Abbott urged anyone in its path to consider evacuating.)

“If water is in your home, let me encourage you not to come up into the attic,” Turner said, unless “you know there is an exit out.” Separately, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has said that if you enter an attic, make sure and have an axe to get out.

Turner also said a lot of calls are coming in to the county’s 911 number, but not a lot are “life threatening.”

9:50 a.m. Flooding, or anticipated flooding, is touching off law-enforcement decisions—lately including a mandatory order in La Grange for residents to evacuate, as reported here. The Colorado River is projected to crest there at 3 a.m. Monday.

Hays County authorities rescued a few people overnight Saturday but otherwise the situation isn’t dire yet, according to a press release issued this morning.

“The city of San Marcos has been very fortunate so far, but there is the potential for more severe weather later tonight and through mid-week,” San Marcos Mayor John Thomaides said in the release. “This lull in the storm is a good time

8 a.m. update:

HOUSTON — It was supposed to be bad. It wasn’t supposed to be this bad.

Thunderstorms pummeled this city overnight Saturday as Tropical Storm Harvey stalled out again, dropping more nearly two feet of rain in some residential neighborhoods, which triggered widespread flooding that is already blamed for five deaths.

To the south, it was even worse. More than two feet of rain fell at the National Weather Center’s Houston office in League City, about 30 miles south of Houston proper. Emergency responders turned swamped freeway overpasses into ramps to launch rescue boats, Houston Chronicle reporter Dug Begley tweeted early Sunday morning.

Gov. Greg Abbott told Fox News that damage from Harvey will be in the billions of dollars statewide.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter this morning to say, “I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.”

Throughout Friday and much of Saturday, Houston’s bayous gamely kept up with Harvey’s wrath. But the foot-plus of rain that fell over virtually every part of the city overnight proved to be too much. Water spilled over banks of the bayou and into surrounding neighborhoods.

Officials here have reported performing at least 1,000 high-water rescues with thousands more needed as homes were inundated by the water. The 911 system here was so overwhelmed that officials begged Houstonians to only use it if they were in immediate danger.

The weather forecast shows no reprieve in sight for this city and county of 4.5 million people. Rain, including more torrential downpours, remains in the forecast for the rest of today.

6:40 a.m. update: Five people are reported dead in Houston as Tropical Storm Harvey has dumped up to 30 inches of rain, the Houston Chronicle is reporting.

“It’s catastrophic, unprecedented, epic — whatever adjective you want to use,” Patrick Blood, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told the Chronicle. “It’s pretty horrible right now.”

The newspaper reported the weather service said five people have died in the Houston area in unconfirmed flood-related deaths.

Computer models show continued rounds of thunderstorms spawned by Harvey, which has been downgraded from a hurricane to tropical storm. Blood said the Houston area can expect at least an additional 15 to 25 inches over the next few days.

6 a.m. update: Emergency workers in Houston are overwhelmed with calls for water rescues, having responded to “hundreds” as of early Sunday, the Houston Chronicle is reporting. Three people have been reported dead.

Houston police officials also evacuated two apartment complexes in Greenspoint, rescuing more than 50 children from rising flood waters overnight.

A mother and child have apparently died in flood waters on Interstate 10, the newspaper reported, bringing Houston’s Harvey death toll to three.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted at 2:41 a.m. about an unconfirmed report that a female and child were inside a submerged vehicle along Interstate 10 near Lathrop.

A woman who allegedly tried to exit her flooded car near the Buffalo Bayou became the city’s first fatality Saturday night, authorities said.

“It breaks your heart,” Acevedo said via a livestream on Twitter, as he stood in waist-high water in north Houston. “But, it’s Texas, we’ll get through it.”

Some neighborhoods have been hit with more than 15 inches of rain, the Chronicle reported, forcing some residents to flee to their attics, especially along Interstate 45 between downtown and Clear Lake, including parts of Pasadena.

Officials with the National Weather Service called the flooding “catastrophic” and “life-threatening,” and authorities urged people to stay off the roads.

The Harris County sheriff’s office reminded residents that non life-threatening water inside home that was not threatening life is safer than going outside. “Difficult & scary, but we’ll get to you,” the office said in a tweet. “Pls shelter in place. Be safe.”

The National Weather Service in Houston warned residents to seek shelter on a roof if the highest floor inside the house becomes dangerous.

3:30 a.m. update: Some in Houston are climbing into attics to flee rising flood waters, the Houston Chronicle is reporting.

“Have reports of people getting into attic to escape flood waters,” tweeted Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Austin’s previous police chief. “Do not do so unless you have an ax or means to break through onto your roof.”

Those reports were coming from areas along Interstate 45 between downtown Houston and Clear Lake, the Chronicle reported.

Early Sunday, the Harris County sheriff tweeted that there were reports of several submerged vehicles on Interstate 10 at Lathrop and added that, while it was unconfirmed, crews were investigating reports that one of the vehicles possibly had a deceased woman and child inside.

Earlier: HOUSTON — A miles-long string of booming thunderstorms from Tropical Storm Harvey brought torrential rains overnight Saturday that flooded city streets, drowning one person.

            HOUSTON: Flooding along key city bayou hits ‘catastrophic’ levels