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Torrential rains drain emergency resources in Texas

August 27, 2017 at 6:02 PM EDT
With the potential for storm totals to reach 50 inches of rain this week, residents of Houston and parts of southeast Texas are experiencing some of the most extreme flooding ever seen in the state, according to the National Weather Service. Houston Chronicle Metro Editor Dianna Hunt joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from downtown Houston to describe the scene.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For more on the severe flooding situation in Houston, I’m joined via Skype from “The Houston Chronicle” newsroom by the newspapers metro editor Dianna Hunt.

Ms. Hunt, what a difference 24 hours makes. You were talking about some of these preparations yesterday, but the video that we are seeing from Houston is dramatic. Tell us a little bit about what your reporters are seeing out there.

DIANNA HUNT, METRO EDITOR, THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE: this is an extraordinary amount of flooding and torrential rains. It’s actually stopped at the moment, there’s been a bit of a break.

But the bayous are flooded. The streets are flooded. Homes are flooding. People are being plucked off of roofs by helicopters even as we speak right now.

They set up shelters — instead of a shelter in the convention center downtown, everybody is trying to shelter in place if at all possible. And we have reporters embedded all over the region trying to capture what’s going on, and we still can’t get it all. We’ve had thousands of rescues.

We’ve had six people believed to have died already in the storm in this area, not including the one person who died in Rockport. It’s very disastrous. If we continue to get more rain as we’re predicted to get, it will just get worse.

SREENIVASAN: You know, and that’s the thing that’s hard to comprehend here is that there are breaks in the rain and people think, perhaps this is over. But, really, this weather system it goes back out and comes back in or even just stays, this is what you’re going to have for the next couple of days. And so, if this is the kind of damage that can happen in just 24 hours, how does the city drain this kind of water that fast?

HUNT: Well, it just — it tries to — its bayous and their waterways can carry it, we have retention ponds. Those can all carry a load. They just can’t carry it as fast as it’s been coming down.

If we can get a little bit of a break and let it catch up a little bit, that helps the system. But we were at one point getting three to four inches in an hour. And it just can’t handle that. The roads can’t handle it. The drain systems can’t.

Now, the bayous are starting to fill. We have some rivers that are about to go over their banks and then outlying counties that are threatening homes there, too. But as — it also as it drains downstream, it creates flooding problems there. So, it’s going to be with us for a while.

SREENIVASAN: You know, I remember covering Hurricane Rita when there was a mass evacuation of Houston. And the mayor today said, you know, you just can’t move 2.3 million people and put them on the road at the same time, that’s dangerous. But at this point, there are going to be people who are stuck in their homes without power who are going to try to figure out how to leave.

But when you look at the map of all of the road closures that are happening, it’s not going to be very easy for them to get out.

HUNT: No, at this point, if your house is not flooded, you should not leave. Stay where you are, stay off the roadways, that just causes more problems. I just talked with a woman this morning who has about three feet of water in her house. She’s at White Oak Bayou.

She went to a neighbor’s house and they’re just staying there right now. There’s no emergency necessarily. There’s no one sick or injured. They’re just — they have three families in one home, waiting until this goes away and they can get out.

SREENIVASAN: What’s the status of all of the other kind kinds of functions of a city? I mean, are the school districts planning on closing for the next couple of days? Are the hospitals still up and running?

HUNT: The hospitals are still up and running. There have been reports of some problems at one of our hospitals with the basement. But they’re still functioning.

We had a lot of problem in the hospital, in the medical district during Tropical Storm Allison, which is very similar to this, and that it stayed over the city and just dumped rain over a period of days. They had generators that went out, generators that flooded. They had to evacuate. They have made changes in the hospital district, in the medical district to prevent that from happening again.

So, the problems have been minimized I think as a result of what happened with Tropical Storm Allison that was in 2001. But the rest of things are trying to catch up. We get a break, there’s a little bit of almost sun shining right now and people try to catch up. But they are still plucking people off the roofs of houses at the moment too.

SREENIVASAN: You know, are there areas of specific concern heading into the next 48 hours or 72 hours for greater rainfall?

HUNT: Well, the whole area is threatened by the potential for additional rain. If the storm system just stops over us, it can just rain endlessly. At the moment, we’ve had some raves of rain. At the moment, we’re not in one of those now. If the whole system settles over us and just stalls, as it can do, then we just get days of rain and it builds up, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Dianna Hunt of “The Houston Chronicle”, thanks so much.

HUNT: Thank you.

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