TOPICS > Nation

In Gulf Coast cities, officials warn of coming floods

August 27, 2017 at 5:01 PM EDT
People in the small city of Victoria, Texas, which was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, started grappling with the aftermath on Sunday. While the city, about 30 miles inland from the Gulf Coast, did not experience extreme flooding, roofs were torn off, power lines knocked over and infrastructure was severely damaged. NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker reports on the scene.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A two-hour drive southwest of Houston, about 30 miles inland from the Gulf Coast, lies the city of Victoria.

67,000 people live there, and they were hit hard by Harvey when it was at hurricane strength yesterday morning.

NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker reports on how residents and emergency responders are dealing with the heavy damage.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: 24 hours after the winds subsided, Thomas Cano is still shaken.

THOMAS CANO: The house shook. It shook like crazy. It shook like somebody was doing a whip on it, you know? I was scared. You know I’ve been scared before, but when you can’t see it, that makes it even worse, when you can’t see the danger, you know?

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Born and raised in Victoria, Cano and his family boarded up their windows before Harvey’s arrival and opted to ride out the storm in the home his mother bought 40 years ago. Now a tree — uprooted from the yard — lies fallen on the side of his house.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Did you hear that tree fall?

THOMAS CANO: Yes, sure did. I was on that window upstairs. I was looking when it fell. I said, “Oh, my god!” I was like — it’s just — it was scary. It was scary — you know…

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: In another Victoria neighborhood, Scott Koonce and Jake Lutz clean up debris strewn across their neighbors’ yards. They wanted to help restore their community to normal before evacuees begin to come back.

SCOTT KOONCE: if we get a head start on it, the faster we get it cleaned up, the faster they can come in here and fix the electricity, get the water back on, things like that.

JAKE LUTZ: I had a friend down the street, came back down and asked us if we could help him because a tree fell through his roof. So we’re just out here doing what we can to help everybody and trying to clean up.”

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: The city says it’ll take months to clear away all the debris and trees that Harvey left behind, but what they’re most worried about is what happens here at the Guadalupe River and Victoria’s other waterways, which aren’t expected to crest until at least midweek.

O.C. GARZA: We’re expecting every creek and river in Victoria County to go to record flood levels over the next few days.”

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: O.C. Garza is the Victoria Emergency Operations Center’s public information officer. He says while the rainfall rate has slowed, the city’s residents need to brace themselves for the flooding to come.

O.C. GARZA: These are not life-threatening, high — rapidly high-speed flood water. These are waters that back up into people’s homes and such. And so, we’ve got floods to contend with for at least a week.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: The difficulties facing residents are not limited to housing damage. Greg Heavener of the national weather service says that the flood waters may get high enough to cut off Victoria from the rest of the state.

GREG HEAVENER: We’ve been forecasting major flooding for the past three to four days, so people are well aware of it, but, again, if it does happen, li–likely a lot of these roads here will be impassable and people will not be able to get out of the city.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Wow. And so where will people go?

GREG HEAVENER: Exactly. So, you know, if you’re gonna come in, be prepared to be here for several days with flood waters around the area. Otherwise, you know, stay out of the city.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Victoria police officers are going door to door, encouraging residents to leave this area. They told people in this neighborhood, the last time the Guadalupe River flooded here, it crested at around 30 feet above flood stage. This time, police say, they expect it to be far greater.

Residents we met said they’ve lived through bad flooding in the past. But what is projected from Harvey is unlike anything they’ve seen before.

HARI SREENIVASAN: NewsHour weekend’s Christopher Booker joins us now from Victoria, Texas. Christopher, you’ve been out and about all day. How are people dealing with their basic needs? I see that there’s probably a lot of power lines down, with trees that big behind you that are also down.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Yeah, it’s a bit like moving through a maze of trees here. Across the city there are hundreds and hundreds of really substantial trees across the streets, power lines down. We only saw one open store and that store had a line out the door, people lining up to get food and water and they were going into a store that didn’t have any electricity. We went to the police station as well. The toilets weren’t working, the pumps weren’t working, they had set up a number of Porta Potties outside. The city really is crawling along.

HARI SREENIVASAN: When do officials think people can return, or when it would be safe for them to return?

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: It’s really unclear. Some folks are coming back. We visited a home right next to the Guadalupe River, a family of four pulled up to their house which was right next to the Guadalupe River, and a huge tree branch had fallen right on top of the roof, puncturing the roof, flooding their kitchen. They were there just for a really brief moment just to pick up as much as they could, because their house is most certainly going to flood. And the city now is facing this bigger question of, the winds have died down, the recovery has started, but the water is rising, so the folks that might return actually might end up getting stuck here.

HARI SREENIVASAN: How are the officials preparing for all that rain?

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Well, the police department tells us that they’ve assembled their water rescue team. The team is in place but actually a portion of that team was dispatched to Houston to help out with the recovery there. There was only one reported injury here in victoria, a power line that fell. The injury was non-fatal, but the police really is waiting to see if and when they’ll be needed to help people out of the water.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker, joining us from Victoria, Texas tonight. Thanks so much.