As Hurricane Harvey continues to move slowly over southeastern Texas, the Houston area is bracing for more catastrophic flooding. Water levels surged in many areas to 500-year floodplains, and with Harvey moving at a snail’s pace the Houston area is bracing for flooding to get even worse.
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the Houston area was given neither a mandatory nor a suggested order to evacuate. Much of the focus on Harvey’s effects pre-landing was in the Corpus Christi area, and because of the storm’s slow movements, it was expected that the areas in and around Corpus would bear the brunt of the storm’s blow. But with significant amounts of rain still expected as Harvey continues to move north, the worst of the flooding could be yet to come.
Expectations right now are that at least 30,000 people might need to take shelter from flooding, but that might change if flooding gets worse. The Houston area is experiencing a calamity on par with what New Orleans faced with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, only worse because of Houston’s large size.
As the 4th-largest city in the country, Houston has a population of 2.3 million people, with the Houston metro area home to over 6.5 million people. The lessons learned from Hurricane Rita in 2005, in which Houston’s evacuation led to gridlock and chaos on highways, may have played a role in the decision not to issue an evacuation order this time around, as the city has grown significantly since then. An evacuation order this time around would have resulted in many thousands of people stranded along highways and likely subject to the current flooding conditions.
Houston may very well get 36”+ of rain by the time Harvey finally moves out, which combined with flooding from upriver areas also getting doused may flood even more of the city. The full economic and human toll of the storm will likely be catastrophic, but it won’t be until the floodwaters recede that the full extent of the damage will be appreciated.