While the initial impact of Hurricane Harvey may have seemed lighter than expected from a Category 4 storm, the destruction from the lingering storm continues to grow. Mandatory evacuations have been announced in some Houston neighborhoods, as over 30 inches of rain have fallen in some areas. With another 15 to 25 inches of rain still expected in the same region, flooding has already reached catastrophic levels.
It was a scene that evoked Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005, with worried residents punching holes in roofs in anticipation of the water rising even higher and people being rescued by helicopters from soggy rooftops.
The chaos inflicted by the remains of Hurricane Harvey played out across an enormous swath of Texas, most conspicuously in this metropolitan area of 6.6 million that has long been used to major storms blowing in off the Gulf of Mexico, but that has seldom, if ever, faced a scene quite like this one.
Though the mayor of Houston has come in for criticism for not issuing evacuation orders earlier, officials have pointed out the difficulty of evacuating an area of seven million people facing a disaster that’s grown over a period of days. Area residents who made it through the high winds of the storm’s initial impact may have felt they were in the clear. But that’s not the case.
The full extent of Harvey’s aftermath started to come into chilling focus Monday in Houston and across much of Central Texas, as rain measured in feet, not inches, overwhelmed lakes, rivers and bayous, leaving several people dead and thousands displaced in a weather disaster described as “beyond anything experienced.”
It’s not even correct to discuss the “aftermath” of Harvey, as it remains an active system. On Monday morning, Harvey still ranks as a tropical storm, with sustained winds over 40 mph. It is moving slowly to the southeast, and models now suggest that the storm will re-enter the Gulf on Tuesday, which will help sustain its strength—and reload the supply of moisture—as it moves north over the following days.
On Monday morning, the Army Corps of Engineers was forced to open some dams near Galveston to avoid failure, which is causing an even more rapid rise downstream.
"Residents adjacent to the reservoirs need to be vigilant because the water in the reservoirs is rising rapidly," said Col. Lars Zetterstrom, Galveston District commander. "Both reservoirs are rising more than half a foot per hour.”
The City of Conroe says record levels of water are also being released from Lake Conroe Dam and flooding is imminent in some areas.
While the destructiveness of hurricanes is usually all about wind speed, it was storm-slowness that defined Harvey. The storm moved inward at a less-than-walking-speed of two miles per hour, crept northwest over Saturday and early Sunday, then slowly turned and began trended back to the southeast at three miles per hour. That glacial pace means that the storm, which was carrying massive amounts of moisture from extraordinarily warm waters in the Gulf, has dropped that rain over a relatively small area rather than spreading it out in a more typical fashion.
Flooding has reached into areas left high and dry by previous storms, surprising many in the area and leading to frightening scenes of attempted escapes and submerged homes.
Flooding was reported in numerous communities in the Texas interior between Houston, to the east, and Austin and San Antonio, to the west. On Sunday, a mandatory evacuation order was issued for the city of La Grange, where the National Service’s projected that the Colorado River would crest at 49.1 feet, according to the city’s website.
And while the storm wobbled north of Corpus Christi on Friday, avoiding the level of damage that could have been delivered to an area with high population, a large number of ship ports, and extensive oil and gas storage fields, that’s little relief for the areas that ended up at the center of the storm.
In Rockport, where the storm made landfall, hundreds of homes, apartments, businesses, churches and government offices were damaged or destroyed. On Sunday morning, parts of the city were a wreck, pervaded by the sweet stench of gas, wind-battered and littered with downed power lines and tilting utility poles. Injured dogs wandered the streets.
Donald Trump has issued multiple tweets about the storm, weirdly interspersed with tweets about building a wall between the US and Mexico, an upcoming rally in Missouri, complaints about NAFTA, and praise for a book by Sheriff David Clarke.