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Hurricane Harvey: How Bad Are Things in Houston?

Courtesy of Pam Martens.

When Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, Texas briefed reporters yesterday evening, it was clear that Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States with 2.3 million residents, was in deep trouble. The Mayor appeared calm but the numbers he presented evoked images of a nightmare unfolding in a city vastly understaffed for an epic flood disaster.

With highways and residential streets experiencing unprecedented flooding, people were trapped in cars, on rooftops and in homes across the city. The mayor said there had been 6,000 calls for rescues but only more than 1,000 people thus far rescued. With much of the city impassable, flood waters rising fast and the Army Corps of Engineers releasing more water from reservoirs to prevent dams from failing, these were the rescue assets that the Mayor listed: 35 boats making rescues, 22 airplanes looking for people in trouble, 93 dump trucks doing high water rescues. The Mayor said FEMA had provided 16 people for search and rescue missions.

The Associated Press and Houston Public Media reported that “Rescuers have to give top priority to life-and-death situations, leaving many affected families to fend for themselves.”

The National Weather Service released a statement saying that “the breadth and intensity of this rainfall is beyond anything experienced before,” adding that before the storm passes, some portions of Houston and its suburbs could get as much as 50 inches of rain in total from Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath – the highest amount ever recorded in Texas.

In Houston’s southwestern suburbs, officials in Fort Bend County issued mandatory evacuation orders on Sunday affecting a wide area along the Brazos River levee districts over fear of potential levee failure. The order impacts approximately 50,000 people.

In what sounded like an appeal of desperation from an under-prepared FEMA, which should have had massive assets deployed in safe regions of Texas prior to the arrival of Hurricane Harvey, the FEMA Administrator, Brock Long, asked for citizen volunteers. Long said citizens should visit NVOAD.org to register to assist in the disaster. While providing money to reputable disaster assistance groups is a noble undertaking, the prospect of thousands of citizen volunteers heading toward a flooded, impassable city could actually make the situation worse for an already overtaxed municipal rescue operation. It would make far more sense for highly-trained first responders from other cities to provide assistance.

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