Floods hit historic levels in Texas — and more rain is on the way

Torrential rains have inundated central and west Texas these last few weeks, leaving large sections of Fort Bend County underwater. Residents have evacuated, but more rain is expected as the weather pattern begins to turn toward Houston. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Fort Bend County Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Braun and Michael Walter of Houston’s Office of Emergency Management for more.

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    But first: Torrential rains and flooding in Southern and Central Texas have made for a damaging and even deadly couple of weeks.

    A crest on the Brazos River is eclipsing records set more than two decades ago. Large sections of Fort Bend County just southwest of Houston are underwater. Residents there and in several other cities have been evacuated. At least six people have died since last week. And more rain is expected in the coming days as the weather pattern pushes east.

    We get a report from one of the worst-hit areas.

    Jeff Braun is the emergency management coordinator in Fort Bend County and joins me via Skype.

    Jeff, I said these records were set a couple of decades ago. Tell me, have you seen it this bad before?

  • JEFF BRAUN, Emergency Management Coordinator, Fort Bend County:

    No. No, Hari, we have not seen it this bad. 1994 was the record flood here at the Richmond Gauge — the city of Richmond is the center part of the county, and there's a gauge there that everybody bases their flood finding on.

    The record was 50.3 at that gauge. We're going to be somewhere about four feet or a little over four feet higher than the water's ever been seen in the county in the last 25 years.


    We see aerial pictures sometimes of horses being pulled off the farm on to porches of homes. We just see huge swathes of rural area that just look like large lakes now. How long until those drain?


    Yes, it's a major concern for us.

    The water that enters into the city of Simonton, which is the first town in Fort Bend County hat has the Brazos River, there's probably over 300 homes that have water in them there. Today, we also have the Texas Animal Health Commission going out to work with some of the ranchers out there because they have cattle that are in compromised positions.

    The water is flowing down the river, not only in rural areas, but into some of our denser populated areas in the Rosenberg-Richmond area, and the water level is going to crest in a very long, slow time frame. So we may be looking at several days, maybe even a week, of the water staying at the level that it's at right now, which is several feet above what would be the record crest.


    Jeff, these — these — that river snakes all the way across your county, and it has a lot of different bends and probably a lot of different elevations as well.

    Are there particular areas you're more concerned about in the coming days, in the coming weeks that will be basically more populated?


    Well, the city of Simonton and Rosenberg were the first two cities hit. And they both had mandatory evacuations. The city of Richmond has a mandatory and voluntary evacuation.

    We have large parts of the unincorporated area of the county that have been affected, as the river crests in Richmond is then going to move down into the southern part of the county. A good part of the southern part of the county has levees. All our leveed areas are in fine shape. All the lid operators are doing a great job.

    So there's no worry there. But then once we get past the lid areas, we're looking at some other areas where it is a combination of rural houses, and also more bottomland, where there's cattle and horses.

    A lot of those individuals have taken heed of the warnings and have moved a lot of the people and livestock out of the way.


    All right, Jeff Braun, the emergency management coordinator in Fort Bend County, thanks so much for joining us. I know it's a busy day for you. Thank you.


    Thank you.


    From where the water is to where it may be going. Houston, which has dealt with severe flooding waters in recent years, is bracing for floodwaters to come its way.

    Michael Walter is with the Office of Emergency Management for the city. He joins me now.

    So, lot of times, the floodwaters in Texas, they basically go through Houston to get to the Gulf of Mexico. How concerned are you?

    MICHAEL WALTER, Office of Emergency Management, Houston: Well, obviously, whenever we have significant rainfall events that are back to back the way that we have seen the last couple of months, we're very concerned about the impacts that we could have here in the city.

    We have had a history of rivering flooding in our area, and so we are, as always, continuing to monitor that. Unfortunately, it's just the way that Houston was built. This was a small town that was eclipsed by the town of Galveston when it was built.

    And so, since then, we have just had a lot of development, we have had a lot of building, but, unfortunately, the way that the Southeast Texas area drains is through a system of bayous. So if we do receive heavy amounts of rain in concentrated areas, that can put a lot of strain on the bayous towards the Gulf of Mexico, which then results in flooding.

    We have done a lot of work locally to help mitigate against the flooding. There is still a lot of work to do. And the city and our partners at Harris County, Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, all the different jurisdictions around us, we are really committed to helping to solve some of these flooding problems, and also just letting people know what to expect and what steps they need to take to prepare ahead of these types of situations.


    Flooding is one of those things that you can somewhat prepare for when you know that the rain is heavy, it's falling, and you can see the flooding is happening upstream.

    Are you trying to prepare parts of Houston for possibly evacuations like there are happening in Fort Bend County?


    So, our major concern in the city of Houston is not so much the river flooding that you see on the Brazos in Fort Bend County and in the other parts to the west of the city.

    Our major concern is flash flooding. That usually is what impacts us here. So, that's really our concern. We're looking at rainfall totals. We're looking at the location of where that rain is going to fall. The last three federally declared disasters we had, which were all within one calendar year of each other, were all mostly related to flash flooding and water quickly rising and water quickly receding in our neighborhoods.

    So, that's a little bit more what we're concerned about. We are monitoring the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, which are on the west side of Houston, which were built in the late '30s following a catastrophic flood in downtown Houston. Those are holding up. They are holding the water. It is blocking some roads in that area, but those are doing the job that they're doing.

    And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working very closely to control the amount of water coming out of those reservoirs as it flows into a bayou that comes right through downtown Houston.


    All right, Michael Walter with the Office of Emergency Management for the city of Houston, thanks for joining us.


    Thank you.

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