Hurricane Harvey's Flooding Continues To Expand In Houston

Aug 28, 2017
Originally published on August 29, 2017 4:37 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The scope of the flooding in Texas and the response to it is expanding. By this afternoon, the Coast Guard said it had rescued more than 2,000 people who were trapped in their homes. More people have been ordered to evacuate. And Texas Governor Greg Abbott has deployed the entire Texas National Guard to help with rescue and relief. We are joined now by NPR's Nathan Rott. He spent the day trying to get to Houston by way of flooded roads. Hey there, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So where are you now, and what have you seen so far today?

ROTT: (Laughter) Well, we made it kind of technically. We're in the outskirts of Houston on the western side. We're actually pulled over in a residential neighborhood right now, looking at a lot of street flooding. We're trying to pick the best route from here, which has basically been the story of the whole day. It's kind of a stop-and-go sort of thing with flooded streets and road closures.

We drove in from the west, passing through a number of these small, kind of rural towns between Houston and Austin. And there was widespread flooding in a lot of those places - wind damage to buildings. It's just incredible (laughter) honestly just to see the scale of it all. I mean we drove more than a hundred miles today and saw flooding during most of that drive.

MCEVERS: Wow. Who did you meet along the way, and what did they tell you about how they're dealing with this disaster?

ROTT: Well, most of folks that we've talked to have been in those kind of smaller rural towns. One of the places that we did stop in was a town called Columbus, which is right on the banks of the Colorado River. And water was really rising in the river there.

I mean one of the things that we were talking to is - people in these low-lying areas are being evacuated, and they're obviously really concerned about their homes because of that. But I think the bigger concern for some of these places is those rivers which are expected just to surge here in the coming days. In that town of Columbus, I talked to a guy named Travis Weggenhoff (ph), who was digging a trench in his yard to try to drain water from around his house to the street. I think we have a little sound of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOVELING)

ROTT: And so Travis was - he was really measured, calm, said that most of the people in town were trying to be the same. But he also told me this.

TRAVIS WEGGENHOFF: It's bad. It's worse than Katrina.

ROTT: Really?

WEGGENHOFF: Yeah. I was in Baton Rouge during Katrina and did some recovery stuff in New Orleans with them, and it was real, real - this is much worse.

ROTT: I know it's kind of surprising to hear, so I asked him kind of why specifically he thinks this is worse. And he said it just because of what the storm is doing. It's lingering over this region, and it's just going to keep dumping rain for the coming days.

MCEVERS: The National Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Harvey is expected to linger over the Gulf for a couple more days and might swing back for a second landfall. I mean what could that mean?

ROTT: Yeah, so I mean that's - the forecast that I've seen are - Travis - I think he said it was diddling over the region, which is kind of a more colloquial way of putting it. But what they're saying is happening is it's just going into the Gulf. It's going to stay there. It's going to basically dump another 15 to maybe 25 inches of rain in this region. I saw one meteorologist quoted saying that people can expect to see as much rain in the next few days as we've seen so far, which frankly, after seeing what we saw today, is kind of hard to imagine.

The ground here is just saturated with water. The rivers are full. The Colorado River near that town of Columbus I was talking about earlier - the flood stage for that section of river is 26 feet. The water today is already expected to go higher than 53 feet there. So I mean that's double the flood stage height. And we've heard from another guy in town that we met there who said that it's now starting to flood sections of the town.

MCEVERS: Wow. What can you tell us about the federal and state response so far?

ROTT: Well, we've seen lots of police, lots of National Guard convoys and stuff along our drive. People are basically - they're trying to keep roads - people from entering roads that are flooded. They're trying to direct traffic. They're also trying to help with rescue efforts. I - we haven't made it to Houston to really see where a lot of that sort of urban rescue is happening. From what I've heard, a lot of it is they're trying to focus on helping the elderly people that might not be able to help themselves. We've also seen a lot of good Samaritans and citizens that are trying to do their part with, you know, canoes in the back of their truck or bottles of water as they're trying to drive to places that are being really affected.

MCEVERS: NPR's Nathan Rott talking to us from outside of Houston. Thanks so much, and be safe.

ROTT: Yeah. Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.