Houston’s Explosive Growth Amid Disregard Of Flood Preparedness – NPR

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Neena Satija is an investigative reporter for the Texas Tribune, reporting on the flooding in Houston. She led a 2016 investigation into the Houston area’s lack of preparation for catastrophic flooding events.


By now we’d like to stay on the subject of why all this is happening. And for another perspective on this, we’ve called Neena Satija. She is an investigative reporter for The Texas Tribune. And she’s in Houston covering the floods. But long before this storm, she’s been reporting on the Houston area’s vulnerability to flooding.

Her 2016 investigation “Boomtown, Flood Town” points the finger at Houston’s explosive growth. She says this has been allowed to take place with little regard for measures to mitigate flooding, such as maintaining green space. Neena Satija thanks so much for interrupting your own reporting to join us.

NEENA SATIJA: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So your team is staying in a hotel across from a Red Cross emergency shelter. I understand that you’ve been checking in. What’s the scene like there?

SATIJA: Yeah. Well, a couple hours ago when we were there, there were several hundred people in the shelter. I think that number is only going to get larger. Things seemed pretty calm for the moment. A lot of folks who were there were able to kind of self-evacuate. They knew they were living in apartment complexes – you know, homes with just one story in low-lying areas. And they decided to get themselves over there, which is great news. So we’ll just see what it continues to look like in the future.

MARTIN: All right, so to your deep dive reporting. You know, Houston is prone to flooding – always has been. But your report says it’s getting worse. Let me read a disturbing quote from your piece where you say, (reading) “more people die here than anywhere else from floods” – that according to Sam Brody, a researcher at Texas A&M – “more property per capita is lost here. And the problem is getting worse.” Why is it getting worse?

SATIJA: Yeah. And, you know, everything in our story is coming from scientific research. Basically, I think there are two reason flooding in Houston is getting worse according to scientists and experts and public officials that we talked to. Number one is unchecked development. As you mentioned kind of at the top, we – a lot of this pasture land, prairie land that used to absorb these floodwaters when they came over Houston has been paved over. And that has caused some of this flooding to get a lot worse. And, of course, development also means you’ve got more in harm’s way.

You got more people living in Houston than you did 10 years ago. You’ve got more pavement and more of structures in Houston than you did 10 years ago. So that’s, obviously, going to put more in harm’s way when you have these kinds of torrential rain storms. And then the next factor is climate change. It’s seeming increasingly clear, according to scientists, that because of climate change, these storms are going to get more frequent and they’re going to get more severe. So you put those two things together, and you’ve got a big problem.

MARTIN: Now, obviously, you’re reporting on the immediate disaster here. But if you had a chance to check back with some of the sources that you consulted for this project – and I was wondering what they said – did this flooding – was this expected? Did they expect this? Or did this catch them off guard, too?

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