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Could more have been done to prepare for Texas floods?

The streets of Houston are still flooded after an onslaught of severe storms, and the city is bracing for more rain in the coming days. Officials say six people have died in Houston from the flooding so far. Judy Woodruff learns more from Molly Hennessy-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times about how the already-saturated state is coping.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let's get an on-the-ground update on the problems in Houston and the efforts to deal with the floods.

    Reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske is based there for The Los Angeles Times and she joins me now.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    So what is the latest on the flooding situation and on the casualties?

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE, Los Angeles Times:

    Well, Judy, thanks for having me.

    We have — the death toll has risen to about 19 in Texas and Oklahoma. But they're also still searching for people who are missing, as you mentioned. We have some people who are missing in Houston from the flooding here, but then also in Central Texas, still, from flooding that happened over the holiday weekend.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And what about the flooding situation? I mean, how bad is the — how high is the water, how big a threat?

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE:

    Well, the water got pretty high. We had almost a foot of rainfall overnight into Tuesday morning. And so yesterday was a big day for people, you know, kayaking in the streets and trying to get around. People who were trapped in their homes had to be rescued by fire crews who went around the neighborhoods in rescue boats. One of those boats capsized and two of the people who were still missing had been in that boat.

    Today, the waters had receded, mostly. I had gone around and talked to some of the people in the neighborhoods. They were dealing with trying to repair their homes, clean them out, get insurance adjusters in. They were still trying to survey the damage and figure out how many homes were damaged, but certainly thousands in Houston area alone.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, I know there have been some terrible and really harrowing stories. And you have been out — as you said, you have been talking to people. Tell us about what you are learning.

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE:

    Well, I spoke with the father of — the lone survivor of a group in Wimberley, Texas, that's in the central Texas hill country. He and his family, including two young children, had been vacationing with friends over the holiday weekend when late Saturday night floodwaters from the Blanco River that you had mentioned carried away the house that they were in.

    He managed to swim to a bank and crawl to safety. He has a broken sternum, a collapsed lung, broken rib. He is recovering in the hospital. But the rest of their group, eight people, including three children, still haven't been found. They say that there is no sign of them thus far. But officials and family and friends are still searching.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So there are still active searches under way?

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE:

    That's right, in that area of Central Texas.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So how are authorities preparing? Because I know the forecast is for more rain. What are they telling people?

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE:

    That's right. I mean, we had more rain today in Houston, thunderstorms this morning, a lot of people awoke to and were concerned. However, that rain mostly fell in areas that hadn't seen flooding over the weekend.

    And so, by this afternoon, the sun was out. And a lot of the people who had had the flooding, like I said, were still cleaning up. But the officials have said to watch for the potential for further flooding because the ground is so saturated. In particular, they're watching the rivers in the Houston area and warning some residents on at least — who live on one of the rivers that they might want to leave the area, because there is a potential for flooding.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, how Molly, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, we know you are in Houston, but, as we said in that report a moment ago, that dam that was posing a threat of overflowing, overrunning its banks, they were able to stave that off. Is that threat now stopped? We know that is closer to Dallas.

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE:

    Well, that's true. That's up in Midlothian.

    But I did call up there and spoke with some of the officials. And they said that the threat seemed to have gone down, along with the water, that that they had been pumping the water out and it seemed like the concern that they had in the morning, some people thought that there were mandatory evacuations. The officials told me they weren't mandatory, that they had just warned people that there might be water overtopping the dam. But that didn't end up happening and they felt like they had it under control by this afternoon.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    For people who don't know that area, I know Houston is called the bayou city.

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE:

    That's right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    There is a lot of floodplain around there. To what extent are people living either in a floodplain or close to a floodplain there?

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE:

    Well, you know, it's interesting. I went out to a neighborhood, one of the ones that was hardest-hit in Houston, yesterday, Meyerland. And I talked to some of the people.

    There was one family who had lived facing a bayou, so they said, obviously, we know, we face the bayou, that this could be a risk, but they had lived there eight years and they had never had water come into their home. Their home was completely flooded, several feet of water, still standing water yesterday.

    Another family that I talked to, they were several blocks away, not even within sight of the water. They had been in their home for 27 years. They built their home elevated at about three feet offer the ground, all brick. And it hadn't flooded in 27 years. And it flooded this time. They had about a foot of water.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, and it's — it has to be a nightmare for folks in that situation.

    Already, there is some conversation around whether more should have been done by the city, by the state to prepare for something like this. I know we're still early in this. Are you hearing anything about that from city or state officials?

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE:

    Well, I talked to residents about that. And there were some residents who were frustrated because they said they — like the family I mentioned to you who live on the bayou, who said they called 911. They saw rescue boats going by, but they felt like they didn't get any immediate help.

    However, I also talked to residents in that neighborhood who said they saw the fire department busy rescuing elderly residents in those same boats. When I talk to the city emergency operations folks and the county, they are still working, they are still in emergency mode trying to assess the damages, trying to figure out how many homes are damaged, and respond.

    So I think it's sort of an ongoing situation. We will probably learn more about that in the days ahead.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, as we said, the forecast is for more rain.

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE:

    That's right.

    And I spoke with some of the forecasters about that, trying to get a better idea. They said more storms are expected. This is — it's summer storm season here. But they weren't quite sure where the storms would pop up or how much rain they would dump. And with the ground so saturated, that really is the question, whether it's going to hit areas that have already flooded and can't take more rain.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Molly Hennessy-Fiske, we thank you for your reporting with The Los Angeles Times, based in Houston. Thank you.

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