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Prolonged rainfall will continue through Thursday, stranding residents in the nation’s fourth most-populous city, turning some freeways into rivers and flooding some areas that have never seen high water.
A flood disaster that officials have described as "historic" is currently unfolding in Houston, the nation’s fourth most-populous city, following Hurricane Harvey’s arrival in Texas on Friday night. The situation will continue to test emergency managers and first responders in the coming days, not just in the greater Houston area but across the region.
The storm, which made landfall near Port Aransas in the Corpus Christi area with Category 4 force winds, maintained tropical storm strength on Sunday. Although the storm’s dangerous winds have mostly died down, Harvey’s precipitation is expected to stay mostly parked over southeast Texas in the coming days. There have been isolated tornadoes, as well.
It’s currently hard to assess the true scope of the storm's impacts in Houston and surrounding areas since first responders are currently focused on rescuing people in life and death situations. Officials have asked people in the greater Houston area to shelter in place in the coming days.
The National Weather Service has warned that Harris County, which includes Houston, and neighboring counties will continue to experience “prolonged heavy rainfall” and “dangerous” and life threatening flooding” through Thursday. Many areas have already seen more than 2-3 feet of rain with isolated areas seeing even more.
Low-lying neighborhoods in Houston accustomed to flooding have seen very high water along with areas that don’t normally flood. The National Weather Service relayed a civil emergency message from local officials asking people stuck in flooded homes not to seek refuge in attics and instead move to rooftops.
9-1-1 services in Houston have been overwhelmed as people in flooded homes and cars have called for help.
State and local officials have asked the public to stay off the roads and for good reason—travel is extremely difficult due to flooding, especially in Houston. Some major freeways have been turned into rivers. Many roads are closed or otherwise impassable due to high water.
Gail Delaughter, a transportation reporter from Houston Public Media said during a National Public Radio interview on Sunday afternoon that a depressed section of Interstate 45 north of downtown was flooded up to the top of its embankment, with floating debris moving through as if it were a river.
While many of the city’s neighborhoods have remained dry, there are others that are “fighting for everything got,” Delaughter said.
Officials in Harris County have asked for the public’s assistance with water rescues, making an appeal for flat-bottomed boats and high-water vehicles.
Sunday afternoon, there were at least 255 high-water spots around Harris County roadways, Houston Public Media reported.
The Harris County Office of Emergency Management on Sunday night warned that flooding could worsen in some areas due to the controlled release of water in the Barker and Addicks reservoirs by the U.S. Army Corps of engineers. The releases, staring Monday at 2 a.m. CT with Addicks Reservoir, is expected to raise water levels in Buffalo Bayou by 4-6 inches per hour, KPRC-TV reported.
During a news conference on Sunday afternoon where he stressed the statewide impacts of the hurricane, including significant flooding in neighboring Liberty and Brazoria counties, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he has activated 3,000 national and state troops. The governor called up 1,000 more later in the evening.
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.