Catastrophic Floods Threaten Millions After Hurricane Harvey Drenches Houston – HuffPost

 In U.S.
  • Harvey’s center is expected to move off the coast Monday, but rains will continue pummeling the region for the rest of the week, the National Hurricane Center said Sunday evening.
  • Thousands of people were still awaiting rescue early Monday. Authorities urged citizens to stay off the streets and to climb to rooftops if they are trapped.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water from two dams west of Houston early Monday morning, further increasing water levels throughout the city in order to save the dams from failure.
  • The exact death toll is unclear.
HOUSTON ― Heavy rain pummeled the nation’s fourth-largest city early Monday as one of the worst flooding disasters in recent U.S. history was ongoing — and poised to get worse.

At least 25 inches of rain have fallen in parts of Southeast Texas since Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Rockport on Friday evening, shattering several previous rainfall records. Many highways and streets throughout the region are flooded, making normal travel impossible, and Houston first responders had rescued more than 1,000 people from high water by Sunday evening, with at least 5,000 more needing to be rescued. Two people were confirmed dead, including one in Houston. 

The National Weather Service reported on Sunday that four more people died in the city in storm-related deaths, but those fatalities have not confirmed.

More flooding is ahead for the Houston region, forecasters warn, and an already dire situation could soon become desperate: An area the size of Connecticut is expected to receive at least another 20 inches of rain through Friday. 

Louisiana was also poised to be hit with heavy rain and strong winds throughout the week, only a year after severe flooding devastated the region last August. 

The rising waters mean that even at night, the millions of people in Houston, and many more in the surrounding region, are not able to rest. Cell phones ― at least those that still have power ― buzz constantly with flood and tornado warnings. 

If you’re sitting in the Houston area and you see a break and the rain lets up, don’t let your guard down. It’s gonna come right back in.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Burke

Upstream and west of Houston, two giant reservoirs, built in the 1940s to protect the city from flooding, are already nearing capacity. The Addicks and Barker dams, which hold back the reservoirs’ collective 410,000 acre-feet of water, were deemed by the Army Corps of Engineers to be at “extremely high risk of catastrophic failure” in 2009 and named two of the country’s six most dangerous dams in 2012. (One acre-foot of water is enough to cover a football field with a foot of water.) If the dams fail, the Houston Chronicle reported last year, half the city could be underwater.

To prevent the structures from failing, the Army Corps of Engineers, which runs the dams, began releasing water from both the Addicks and Barker reservoirs before 2 a.m. on Monday.

The original plan had been to start the release at 2 a.m. at Addicks and 24 hours later at Barker. However, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers told the AP that the process began ahead of schedule as both reservoirs increased “dramatically”― over 6 inches per hour― on Sunday night and early Monday. 

Water is expected to rise about 4 to 6 inches per hour in Buffalo Bayou, which cuts through downtown Houston, after the controlled release. Much of the area is already flooded from the heavy rain. All roads near the dams will be flooded “for an extended period of time,” and homes upstream of the reservoirs could be flooded for months, Col. Lars Zetterstrom, the Corps’ district commander, said Sunday.

According to KHOU, thousands of homes will likely be impacted by the release. Officials have urged residents in the area to leave their homes as part of a voluntary evacuation, but to only do so on Monday when there is daylight.  

“The idea is to prepare tonight, pack up what you need, put it in your vehicle, then in the morning, they should leave,” said Harris County meteorologist Jeff Lindner, per KHOU. 

“We’re watching stuff real closely with the [Army] Corp of Engineers, trying to preserve the integrity of the dams,” Lindner had said at a press conference Sunday. “This is the first time we’ve ever done this.”

During the controlled release, the dams were expected to let out some 4,000 cubic feet of water per second, but officials said that even more water will likely be flowing into the reservoirs than will be flowing out ― meaning that water levels will continue to rise and further strain the dams.

Even before Monday morning’s water release, highway underpasses and feeder roads across Houston had already become lakes. First responders spent Sunday pulling people stranded from submerged cars into boats and plucking others from the rooftops of their homes by helicopter. But the rain that’s already straining the reservoirs’ capacity will continue, forecasters predicted.

“Harvey will be a devastating rainmaking presence in southeast Texas for days to come,” Weather Underground meteorologist Bob Henson wrote Sunday evening.

Harvey is now stationary, and close enough to the water that it has an unlimited source of fuel, NWS meteorologist Patrick Burke told HuffPost. The weather event will affect the area for “days, if not weeks,” he warned.

“If you’re sitting in the Houston area and you see a break and the rain lets up, don’t let your guard down. It’s gonna come right back in,” Burke said. “Rainfall predictions are as high as we’ve ever made for a storm.” 

President Donald Trump plans to travel to Texas on Tuesday, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The White House is still finalizing the exact details of the trip. Trump tweeted about Harvey and the flooding that followed through the weekend, praising emergency responders for their work.

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