Dispatches from Houston: Hurricane Harvey Day 3
Day 3 and no end in sight
By some miracle (and I truly believe that’s what it is), we’re still high and dry and abundantly thankful to be so. My husband and I are heartbroken for our home town and frustrated that there is nothing we can do to help those in need right now.
While areas that typically flood have done so, Harvey has flooded neighborhoods that have never flooded, meaning their residents are likely without flood insurance. My in-laws who’ve lived in their house for more than 40 years with no issue watched their house flood. And at least a dozen other individuals we know personally have a similar story.
I cannot stress enough how unusual and unbelievable this is. National media keeps referring to Houston as ‘flood prone’. But only very small pockets of Houston usually flood, it’s seldom, if ever, a city-wide, multi-county affair. The damage here is truly catastrophic.
There’s an awful lot of misreporting from national media, too much to combat individually, but there are a few issues I’ll address collectively:
Images from some heavily affected areas like Dickinson, Texas, which is southeast of Houston are being lumped into Houston. Dickinson is not even in the same county as Houston.
The affected area encompasses approximately 30 counties. Bayous, creeks, and rivers are all over their banks. The issues aren’t just local. The Colorado River is at its highest point since 1913 in La Grange, Texas. La Grange is a two hour drive west of Houston. Controlled flooding of lakes and rivers is alleviating some water flow issues, but there’s only so much space left.
My sister, who lives in San Antonio, called to tell me their local news was highlighting stories of people upset about the lack of evacuation order. I’ve been watching local news channels as long as this storm has been an issue here in Houston and have yet to see any such story. The only individuals I’ve seen have expressed their gratitude to first responders or the private citizens rescuing them from harm’s way.
You can watch a local news stream here, which I would encourage over national coverage if you’re interested. This channel was flooded out of their studio and is broadcasting from a public access studio on the University of Houston’s campus:
For those questioning why Houston didn’t evacuate, a little perspective:
We woke up to a Tropical Storm and went to bed with a Category 4 storm minutes away from making landfall. Evacuating some 6.5 million people is no small task. The coordination and resources required to pull that off successfully would be tremendous. There’s not enough fuel available for that many vehicles, and that’s just one of many logistical challenges. See also: Hurricane Rita, where a massive evacuation was called and the country’s worst gridlock transpired. Some 100 people died in their vehicles and the storm hooked right and headed for Louisiana. Had they tried to evacuate Houston and Harris county in that short period of time, Lord only knows how many people would have been stuck in their cars on freeways and roads that are now completely under water. These are never easy calls to make, but I’m confident in and incredibly pleased with Houston’s leadership. I truly believe the decision not to require evacuation saved thousands of lives.
Early this morning local meteorologists were convinced the system was weakening and we’d only receive an inch of rain today. Then Harvey began sucking more moisture from the gulf and it has been pouring (and that’s not an exaggeration), all day long. Winds have picked up and are back to 45 mph and the wrap around moisture is beginning to form up again too.
This whole ordeal is emotionally draining in ways I’m not sure how to explain. The damage is even at this point, unfathomable and as of yet, there’s no end in sight, “but we know it will end at some point,” said a local newsman this afternoon.
Pray for those less fortunate than us, those who’ve lost everything they’ve worked for — their homes, their livelihoods, their sense of stability and hope. Pray that they find peace and comfort. Pray for continued wisdom for our leaders, for our first responders, and for every private citizen who’s out helping their neighbors.
To each of you who has reached out to check on us or has said a prayer for us and our family, from the bottom most reaches of our hearts, thank you. It means more to us than we have words to express.
[Featured image cred: Julian Morrison, Houston resident who submitted her photo to the Houston Chronicle]
Follow Kemberlee on Twitter @kemberleekaye
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Flood prone mega city. It appears that it is impossible to evacuate regardless of warning. If you gave folks 5 days warning, at least half would continue to work or do other things until day 3 or 4…. aaaaannnndd… gridlock. Repeat of Rita. Folks run out of gas, highways blocked for miles and miles… and that’s human nature. Few folks that have jobs can just pack up and leave to somewhere unless real danger is close. Once out, how long do you stay? It’s a tough nut for sure.
Not a place a lot of people will choose to live after this.
Did you not read the piece before commenting? Houston is not flood-prone; “only very small pockets of Houston usually flood.” This widespread flooding has not happened before and is unlikely to happen again.
Actually, Houston has had a drainage problem since, at least the early 1940s, when the drainage reservoirs were constructed. In fact. Tropical Storm Allison  caused extensive flooding in Houston. Here is a description from Wiki:
“The storm dropped heavy rainfall along its path, peaking at over 40 inches (1,000 mm) in Texas. The worst flooding occurred in Houston, where most of Allison’s damage occurred: 30,000 became homeless after the storm flooded over 70,000 houses and destroyed 2,744 homes. Downtown Houston was inundated with flooding, causing severe damage to hospitals and businesses. Twenty-three people died in Texas. Along its entire path, Allison caused $9 billion (2001 USD) in damage and 41 deaths. Aside from Texas, the places worst hit were Louisiana and southeastern Pennsylvania.”
And, this was a tropical storm which did much the same thing as Harvey.
I merely quoted the post. If the post is inaccurate take it up with the writer.
Actually, you did MORE than just quote the post. You drew the conclusion that ” This widespread flooding has not happened before and is unlikely to happen again”. Well, it HAS happened before and, if historical trends are any indication, it will likely happen again.
Now, this was in no way a criticism of YOU. I merely corrected erroneous information to give everyone a clearer understanding of this situation.
Though, having weathered numerous hurricanes myself, I feel for the people of Houston; I’m getting more than a little tired of the media hype. The media, in an effort to make money is making outrageous claims for this storm. It was a cat 4 when it made landfall. This is both good and bad as it produces a very strong wind-field [bad] but hurricane force winds covered a relatively small area [good]. It was a stalling storm which dropped a lot of water over a relatively concentrated area. This is never a good thing. And, the topography of the Houston metro area, in fact the entire East Texas Gulf Coastal area, is low lying. When you have a large area near the center of town with the name Buffalo Bayou [and the other assorted bayous in the area], that should tell everyone something. And, to make it worse, the Buffalo Bayou watershed, essentially a gigantic flood plain, has been heavily urbanized. Can anyone guess what is going to happen?
This is a bad event. But, so far it is not really any worse than TS Allison was in 2001. And, at the moment, there has been less loss of life. So, just as it was after Allison, the rain will stop. The ground will dry. Homes will be rebuilt. People will return and all will go on as before. Until the next slow moving tropical storm event happens. Then the media will go into a total meltdown about the “humanity” of it all.
Quick question here.
Milhouse posts information which I show to be inaccurate. He ends up with 4 likes-0 dislikes and I end up with 2 dislikes? I guess that people would rather be deluded than be shown the truth.
Who knows? I get dislikes when I post information that is literally indisputable. I get dislikes when I post Kipling. I’m astonished I didn’t get dislikes on this one from people who dislike everything I post. We have all kinds of weird people here.
I’ve never been to Houston, and have no idea how often it floods. I merely quoted the post on which we are commenting, and pointed out that RobM seems not to have read it.
Milhouse is correct. After living in Houston for 40+ years, there are certainly areas that regularly flood with as little as 2″ of rain. But those areas are isolated spots and everyone here knows about them. Floods like this are rare events, and any city in the US would flood if it got 50 inches of rain in 3 days. No city is able to cope with that much water that quickly. 3 times as many homes are flooded today as were flooded during Allison. Areas that have NEVER flooded in 50+ years have flooded now.
Do you have a link that shows 210,000 homes are currently flooded in the Houston area? And, exactly how many areas that have never flooded before are flooded now? Do you have any documentation to support this? Or is this anecdotal evidence gleaned from watching the news? Except for the 49″ rainfall total at Mary’s Creek, all of this is speculation and estimation. We’ll all have a better idea of the magnitude of this event in about two weeks, when the costs are all tallied up.
Grew up in Houston, but remember the 1981 flood in Austin – non-stop lightning, thunderstorm sitting on Shoal Creek watershed – don’t remember the rainfall received, but the flooding just below old original Whole Foods was tremendous – flushed all of the 5th street VW dealership’s cars into Town lake. Our apartment was up escarpment from creek – no flooding.
Or the floods around San Marcos every 10-15 years – Blanco River gets very large thunderstorm sitting on watershed – flushes out river. Boy Scout camp situated 50′ above river did not flood.
Or the 1969 flood of the Tye river near Amherst VA – from Hurricane Camille – completely washed all of the soil off a Blue Ridge mountain.
Give it 20-50″ of rain and anywhere will flood, even ‘flood prone areas’.
Hey Milhouse, have you EVER driven down there??? The problem with the Houston area is… it is enormous and built out in every direction. Read up on Rita. There are not enough highways leading out to effect an evac. I can’t believe you’d accuse me of not reading. I did. I also live in Texas. My point was… Houston has issues with heavy rain events that happen every year. Many of their highways flood downtown.. they are built that way. Good grief.
Hey RobM, you clearly did not read the post before commenting, or you’d have seen the part I quoted to you.
Coastal Texans are a tough bunch.
Now everyone that has moved to Houston/Coastal Bend since say 1960 – will get to live there like it was before air conditioning. Sales of all-cotton sheets will be tremendous, as well as mosquito spray and netting. Thank goodness for Texas’ separate power grid and the ‘can-do’ attitude that w/b needed to rip out a bunch of sheet rock, carpet, padding and new a/c units. Clorox sales w/b up, up, up.
Naw. See Alicia, tropical storm.
People come here because there a jobs and a really good life. There are more great places to eat all different kinds of food than you’ll find outside the left or right coasts.
Does Houston flood in this kind of event? Name a city that would not! Remember the floods in the Mid-West a few years ago?
Alicia ruined my other sister.
Sorry! Hope she’s recovered!
Dang… I’m agreeing with Rags on this. ( The upper Mississippi floods back in the 90’s )
I grew up eat of Houston and have in the area off and on for 70 years. Yes, Houston has some areas that flood but the extent of this one is much greater. The Hurricane Ike in 2008 did not have as much flooding. Also, they tried to do a phased evacuation, but many people in areas that were not going to evacuated for one or 2 days started when the ones closest to the coast or Galveston Bay started. My daughter left with her Mother-in-Law for southern Ill, they left before 5 pm, and made it to Kilgore about midnight, and Little Rock about dawn the nest day. However, in 2008, a representative of the Texas EMO was asked about many of the small towns in these coastal (5K to 10 or 15K) and he asked the reporter h
I’m with you on the evacuation. My sister was stuck in that nightmare for Rita. She sat on that highway for 10 hours with two twin boys, finally got off the highway and broke into her friend’s house. Ironically – the place she was headed to got hit harder than League City.
Thank you for the description of the localities and their distance relationships. Very helpful.
I hope the rain ends very, very soon.
Several other comments:
– volunteers are through the roof – locals, north Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi…, probably under reported.
– 30+ inches of rain to date, and more to come – anywhere will flood. The storm will linger into Wednesday
– some talk this is a “1000 year event”, dust off your plans for that
– the entire Texas Guard, 12,000 has been deployed
– all over an area bigger than some states
– multiple watersheds – Trinity, Brazos, Colorado, and many others
Great reporting! I lived in the meyerland area of Houston in late 90s. I don’t think most outside of Texas have any idea how large an area Houston encompasses. Glad to hear you and yours are safe.
I didn’t believe rain like Texas gets was possible till I lived there (CA was home before and now.) My car was flooded while driving to work in an early morning downpour, i can’t imagine that continuing like is happening!!!
Flooding is what happens when you have 9 TRILLION gallons of water dumped on an area.
Wa-Poo had a GREAT visual of the amount of water:
They showed a cube two MILES per side and two MILES high. That is the estimated volume of water that has been dumped on the greater Houston area in the last three days. 2 MILES cubed.
I can’t think of anywhere on the PLANET that isn’t a mountain range that wouldn’t flood if that much water were dumped on it at any one time (and even the mountain ranges would have problems from sheer volume hitting the structures and penetrating).
Thanks for the report, Kemberlee, and hang in there!
Thank you for great report! There is so much baloney being peddled it difficult to know exactly what is happening other than people are suffering.
Prayers for all and hoping the rain stops soon. Just stay safe!
I can truly identify with your in-laws. Though the Nashville flood of 2010 was not as drastic or extensive as what is happening in Houston and surrounding areas, we had a similar experience of living for 25 years in a home that had never been flooded and did not require flood insurance – yet we had 2.5 feet of water in the house with most of our possessions ruined.
It was not helpful at all to have armchair quarterbacking about what should have been done or that people should just move or not live in these areas.
Just do something, anything to help if you can. Listen to the stories. Really see people that are impacted and acknowledge their hurt and loss. Yes, possessions can be replaced, but they are often memory triggers, and that gives them value.
Our hearts go out to you and those affected, and we are praying for the long and difficult recovery road ahead.
“…Just do something, anything to help if you can…”
I must respectfully offer a cautionary word, having some experience in these matters. Resist the impulse to “just do something.” Giving in to that impulse can and often does make things worse. Distressed areas do not need an influx of people.
Pro tip: start your planning with first figuring out the number of latrines you’re going to need.