MILES O’BRIEN: “Get out now.”
That was the blunt, urgent message to residents of Brazoria County. Authorities in the suburban Houston community ordered a mandatory evacuation of the area on Sunday for fear of what came true today, a levee breached by floodwaters.
I spoke with the top elected official of Brazoria County, Judge Matt Sebesta, about the threat they’re facing now.
Judge Sebesta, thank you for being with us. I know you’re very busy.
Bring us up to date on that levee breach and the consequences of that.
JUDGE MATT SEBESTA, Brazoria County, Texas: Thank you, Miles.
Yes, this morning, we hit a breach of a levee at the Columbia Lakes subdivision near West Columbia on the west side of the Brazos River. And we had water coming into the subdivision, but we had some great volunteers that got out there, got that under control.
So, at this point in time, that particular position on the levee has been fortified. The water that was coming in was from the local rains that we have gotten over the last three to four years, but it is very close to the Brazos River, which is still rising in that area.
And the National Weather Service has predicted that the level will be higher than the top of the levee. So, we’re still very concerned about that area as the river continues to rise.
MILES O’BRIEN: Give us a few more details on how the folks there were able to get this under control.
JUDGE MATT SEBESTA: Well, my understanding — and I have not been out there personally — they got out there and they used plywood and what have you to get the leaking temporarily stopped. Volunteers came in. We had a local contractor I believe donated some material.
There was concrete sacks. There was different material brought in, stacked in to take care of that leaking area.
MILES O’BRIEN: Sounds like a heroic effort.
JUDGE MATT SEBESTA: Well, great volunteers. That’s what Texas and Brazoria County is known for.
MILES O’BRIEN: I gather you’re not out of the woods yet though, given what you just said about the river.
JUDGE MATT SEBESTA: Not at all.
Actually, our worst flooding is in front of us for the west side of the county. We have two major rivers that flow through the west side, the San Bernard River and the Brazos River.
Both of those are in major flood stage. They’re still rising. We had a major flood on the Brazos River last year, where the crest was at 52.56. We’re already above that level. And we will be in major flood stage for many days to come.
It will be pouring a whole lot of water out into its floodplain, going into another body of water, Oyster Creek, which will spread out. Last year, when this happened, Oyster Creek was running at below normal. The ground was dry. In some areas, we have had up to three feet of rain in this county over last three to four years — or three to four days.
So, every low spot, all the creeks and bayous, are full already. All of this river water that will flow out will just make it even worse. And that water will continue to flow through the county for many days to come.
MILES O’BRIEN: Judge, do you have any idea how many people are out of their homes now and what you might project as that flooding continues?
JUDGE MATT SEBESTA: I hope that most people are out of their homes. This has been a mandatory evacuation area for the last 48 hours.
The people in the Brazos River, they went through this last year, so they have had a firsthand experience fresh on their mind. They should be gone. I hope they’re all gone. The San Bernard River, it’s been awhile since they have been in major flood stage. I hope that they have left.
We’re a rather large county. We have limited resources this time to get out and assist people, because we have such widespread rain and damage all up and down the Texas coast. So we’re a little bit sparse on having resources come in to assist. We’re mostly local resources at this time.
Our sheriff’s office rescue squad, Gulf Coast Rescue Squad, local DPS troopers and game wardens, we have had a few come in from the outside. We’re hoping to get additional help because we know, down in the river bottoms, we’re going to have a lot of flooding.
MILES O’BRIEN: We wish you well as that unfolds.
Matt Sebesta is a judge in Brazoria County.
JUDGE MATT SEBESTA: Thank you, Miles.