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Historic flooding inundates Texas, hampering rescue efforts

August 27, 2017 at 6:16 PM EDT
Houston's mayor on Sunday urged his constituents in the nation’s fourth-largest city to stay off roadways as the state of Texas continues to contend with unprecedented flooding from Hurricane Harvey, now classified as a tropical storm. Officials said rising waters would reach catastrophic proportions, with more than 2,500 emergency calls made overnight in Houston alone. Hari Sreenivasan has more.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Good evening and thanks for joining us.

The mayor of Houston had a message for his constituents in the nation’s fourth largest city today — please, stay off the roads. The warning came as Hurricane Harvey — still classified as a tropical storm — dumped torrential rainfall on the Texas coast along the Gulf of Mexico.

Two days after making landfall as a “category 4” hurricane Friday night, Harvey has weakened, but with little relief for millions of Texans. At least 5 deaths are blamed on the storm. An estimated 300,000 Texans are without power today.

Parts of southeast Texas expect a cumulative 50 inches of rain… The most ever recorded in the state from one storm. The worst flooding is in Houston, where there have been more than 2,500 rescue calls.

Officials predicted “catastrophic flooding,” and today it came, turning some streets and highways in Houston into rivers and stranding all kinds of vehicles… And people.

Wading through deep water in search of higher ground, people used inflatable rafts and even air mattresses to get through the floods. In the town of Dickinson, southeast of Houston, this resident described the deluge.

CALVIN HUFFMAN: It was real rapid. It just came up. It was like a tsunami, almost.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Emergency responders in a boat rescued Roxanne Rasmussen, along with two disabled residents.

ROXANE RASMUSSEN: It was up to here. I was out showing everything trying to get the national guard to see me, because our subdivision. This is a disaster.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Rainfall varied across the state’s gulf coast, but by dawn, Houston had been swamped with more than 11 inches. The total rainfall could double by the time the storm clears in the next few days.

Houston’s fire department performed hundreds of water rescues. The U.S. Coast Guard deployed five helicopters and rescued more than 100 people in the Houston area. City officials urged residents trapped in their homes by rising flood waters to go to their roofs, not their attics.

The storm system is also creating tornadoes. This home video shows one twister touching down northwest of Houston.

Houstonians are not under any mandatory evacuation orders. Houston mayor Sylvester Turner defended that decision today.

HOUSTON MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Every neighborhood, every communities received water in the flooding. Every bayou went over its banks. You cannot put, in the city of Houston, 2.3 million people on the road. That is dangerous.

Texas governor Greg Abbott says he’s activated 3,000 National and State Guard troops and deployed 600 boats to protect human life. He also warned Houston is not the only city at risk.

TEXAS GOV. GREG ABBOTT: I realize there’s a lot of focus on Houston right now. It’s important not to forget the challenges that people in the counties outside and around Houston because of the immense rainfall.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The federal emergency management agency — FEMA — coordinated relief efforts from its regional center in Denton, near Dallas.

In an interview today, FEMA administrator Brock Long said nearly 5,000 federal government workers are involved in the response.

BROCK LONG: We are already pushing forward recovery housing teams, we are already pushing forward forces to be on the ground to implement national flood insurance program policies as well. And doing the inspections that we need. So. We are setting up and gearing up for the next couple years.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The White House said President Trump, again today, was monitoring the response from Camp David by video conference with Vice President Pence and cabinet officials. He returned to the White House this afternoon.

On Twitter, the president called the storm a once-in-a-500-year flood and said the he would visit Texas, quote, “As soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.”

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