Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Flooding in Houston

Houston is flat.....flat terrain. Oh there are a few little bumps in the landscape and they become neighborhoods named The Heights or Woodland Heights. We get really excited when some part of the ground sticks up several feet above the surrounding landscape and so we give it a name to call attention to its elevated status. But being flat means that when it rains the water doesn't run off quickly and the only place to go is into the bayous that eventually head for the Gulf of Mexico. We've worked on those bayous.....widening them, concreting their sides....some of them bare little resemblance to the meandering tree-lined stream it once was but the engineers are trying to make them move the runoff out to the Gulf faster. Sometimes it isn't enough.

Monday was one of those days when it wasn't enough. A band of thunder storms rolled though some parts of the city and dumped lots of rain in a short period of time. The bayous filled up, the water couldn't get through the storm sewers fast enough and soon we had flooded roads and highways. It continued to rain and soon the water was flooding some homes in the South and East of the city.

The rain started during the night. Being along the Gulf Coast in a kind of sub-tropical weather zone, we are use to rain so we can sleep through it. But imagine the surprise of putting your feet on the floor in the morning and finding that there is water in your house. That happened to some people. Houstonians are finding that more and more areas are flooding.....areas that never flooded before. Subsidence and continuing development of areas that use to be low and swampy is taking its toll.

The TV stations went into a reporting frenzy. They sent reporters out to stand in water up to their knees in the flood, rain running down their faces and slickers, holding a microphone attached to the truck by a cable that is under water, while telling you how dangerous the streets were. Power lines could be down in the water, storm sewer covers off and the water could rise quickly. Every helicopter in Houston must have been hired by the TV stations so their crews could fly up and down the freeways where cars were stuck for miles and zoom in on the hapless cars that were stranded in the street partially submerged in the flood waters. One station got really lucky. One of their trucks was stranded in a parking lot where a family was also stranded. The Mother was in labor so the TV reporter was able to keep the camera focused on the car from a discrete 20 feet away and stay on the air reporting on this monumental event in the middle of the great storm of June 19, 2006.

Houstonians are forever optimistic. There are those of us who never believe that their vehicle can be overcome by water in the streets or that areas that are near the bayous and have flooded before with quickly rising water might, just might, do that again. So they will drive into the water, even drive around barriers that have been set up.

Monday was a terrible day for some in Houston. Losing a car is one thing but having your house flooded and knowing that it could happen again if another storm comes along and dumps five or eight inches of water in a relatively short period of time. So while I may have seem to take the flood lightly, I recognize the personal tragedy for some and our vulnerability. Some of the Hurricane preparedness plans indicate that everything from Galveston on the Gulf of Mexico to about 15 miles South of downtown Houston could be under water if a category 4 or 5 storm comes in around Galveston.

I know that the news of the floods were carried on the TV networks nationwide because some of my readers have written to see if we were okay during the floods. Yes, we were fine sitting on the 18th floor of a hi-rise condo watching the bands of rain roll in and seeing the news reports continue all through the day....even after most of the streets were dry.

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