The Heat Is Online

Worst Houston Flood Ever Kills 20, leaves $2 Billion in Losses

$2.14 billion in damage estimated

Mayor: Storm city's biggest disaster ever

Houston Chronicle, June 14, 2001

The tab racked up by Tropical Storm Allison continued to rise today, topping $2.14 billion in the city of Houston alone.

The total includes $1 billion worth of damage to 27,000 homes, $960 million in damage to at least 526 commercial buildings and $122 million in damaged business inventory, said Jim Robinson, chief appraiser for the Harris County Appraisal District.

Damage to vehicles, the contents of homes and the contents of medical, government and arts buildings have not yet been tabulated. Neither has damage to property in Harris County outside the city limits.

"This is clearly the most expensive, the most devastating disaster we've ever had," Mayor Lee Brown said Wednesday.

Allison first hit Houston on June 5, but the brunt of the storm came last weekend when it killed 21 people and turned neighborhoods into lakes and roads into rivers.

Among other losses, research valued well into the millions was destroyed in Texas Medical Center buildings.

Downtown theaters lost irreplaceable instruments, some of them hundreds of years old. The Houston Symphony's library of musical scores was inundated, as were ballet costumes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Damage to equipment for cellular telephone companies reached $30 million.

Workers are still pumping water out of basements and parking garages in skyscrapers and hospitals, a process that costs about $1 million per building.

The damage values are based on costs for repairs or, in the case of total losses, replacements.

Robinson said he hopes to have a more definitive number for losses within the city of Houston on Friday.

"This is a major catastrophe," said Sandra Ray, spokeswoman for the Southwest Insurance Information Service. "It rivals the hailstorms in the Fort Worth area in 1995 and the Oklahoma City tornadoes."

The estimates put together by insurance catastrophe teams were half a billion dollars in regular insured losses and half a billion covered by flood insurance. Those estimates, Ray said, were preliminary and conservative.

"He may be right," she said of the mayor's figure. "We know our estimate will go up."

Insurance companies expect at least 100,000 claims, with 60 to 70 percent of those involving motor vehicles, Ray said.

Though Brown's assessment of the financial damage likely will prove accurate, Allison has some rivals for the title of worst storm ever in the Houston area.

Flooding caused by Tropical Storm Claudette in July 1979 was almost as bad, and its damage estimates topped $1.8 billion. (All figures have been adjusted for inflation and are in 2001 dollars.)

Claudette was responsible for a U.S. rainfall record. A gauge two miles northeast of Alvin recorded 43 inches over a 24-hour period.

Clear Creek expanded to a width greater than a mile, rising to 9 feet above normal.

Approximately 15,000 homes and 17,000 cars were damaged by floodwaters.

Floods from a four-day deluge in October 1994 produced a little over $1 billion in damage. Seventeen people were killed throughout the Houston area and more than 22,000 homes were flooded.

The notorious 1935 flood, which pushed Buffalo Bayou 46 feet above normal and dunked downtown Houston, caused more than $162 million in damage and was arguably worse than Allison in overall impact. The central water plant, for instance, was inoperable for weeks. So dramatic was the storm's effect that local officials soon created the Harris County Flood Control District.

Houston also has been heavily damaged by two major hurricanes. Alicia hit the Gulf Coast hard in 1983, killing 21 people and exacting a $3.5 billion toll on the region. Carla, which struck in 1961, was even more deadly, taking 34 lives in Texas and wreaking $1.8 billion in damage to the Houston area.

Death toll rises in Texas, La. floods

At least 18 dead; more heavy rain

MSNBC, June 11, 2001

Heavy rain was continuing Monday in Louisiana as Allison’s remnants pounded the state in Texas and Louisiana, and one official’s estimate of damage in Houston neared $1 billion as crews rescued more people trapped in their homes.

(By Friday, officials estimated the damages in Houston alone at $2 billion.)

A rain gauge on Houston’s east side had measured nearly 3 feet of rain since Allison, the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, came ashore last week. More than 20 inches of rain fell on some areas Friday and Saturday, when the wet weather swung around and returned from Louisiana.

Rain was still falling Monday in Louisiana, where the city of Thibodaux has collected nearly 2 feet of rain since June 2. State officials said they had no way of knowing how many people had been evacuated, but at least 1,000 families had been flooded out of their homes in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Snakes and lizards floating in the 3 feet of water in his house forced Al Guillen and his family to move to their second floor in the Houston subdivision of Hunterwood Village.

"We were having a battle with them last night. I kept telling them: ‘This is my house. Get out,’ " Guillen said with a laugh Sunday after being rescued by the National Guard.

Guillen said he let some of his neighbors’ dogs into the house. "They were crying because they couldn’t swim anymore," he said.

At least one storm-related death was reported in Louisiana, and Texas officials said the death toll in the Houston area was up to 17.

Houston Mayor Lee Brown estimated Sunday that 5,000 homes and businesses had been damaged since the flooding started on Friday. At least 10,000 homes were believed damaged in surrounding Harris County, Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt said.

"If I were to give a guess ... it would top $1 billion," Brown said of the damage. "That would be a guess, but it would suggest we have had a serious problem."

Harris County officials estimated that 15,000 area residents needed emergency refuge in more than 30 shelters.

Parts of downtown Houston remained without power and telephone service Sunday, Brown said.

Some highways in the nation’s fourth-largest city were still blocked Sunday by high water or scores of cars and trucks that were abandoned in the middle of flash floods.

"This is overwhelming," police Sgt. C.J. Klausner said as he watched crews pulling dozens of cars and tractor-trailer rigs from Interstate 610, which was closed for a third day.

At the Harris County Jail, next to Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston, 3,000 inmates had to be moved to other lockups because high water knocked out water and electric service.

Houston police investigated scattered reports of vandalism and looting.

In St. Gabriel, La., residents and inmates of two state prison facilities stacked sandbags for a second day Sunday in efforts to keep Alligator Bayou from flooding the town in the Baton Rouge area.

Alligator Bayou Road, a raised road that acts as a levee for St. Gabriel, was crumbling under the wheels of trucks hauling in more sandbags.

"A dump truck tilted over last night, it being so soft. Now the roadway itself is giving way," said S.H. Jackson, the emergency preparedness director for Iberville Parish.

"It’s just a battle against Mother Nature. A lot of times, Mother Nature wins no matter what you do," Jackson said.

2 Die and Thousands Leave Homes in Flooded Houston

The New York Times, June 10, 2001

HOUSTON, June 9 — Three people were killed here this weekend and more than 10,000 were forced to flee their homes by the tropical storm Allison, which has dumped up to 26 inches of rain in a little more than 24 hours.

The storm, which has lingered over the Texas and Louisiana coasts for nearly a week, flooded area freeways, shuttered businesses and forced nine of Houston's largest hospitals to declare internal emergencies.

President Bush declared Harris County and 27 other nearby counties disaster areas this afternoon, and by evening employees of the Federal Emergency Management Administration were on their way to the city. The declaration made residents eligible for low-rate relief loans, grants and other financial assistance.

Emergency officials used boats, helicopters and high-water rescue vehicles today to evacuate thousands of residents trapped by rapidly rising floodwaters. Rob Wyman, a Coast Guard spokesman, said the agency's three local helicopter crews were concentrating on medical emergencies as a first priority for air evacuation, leaving many others stranded.

"There are more people out there on rooftops than we can possibly even count, much less help," Mr. Wyman said.

The three deaths were reported tonight. One man drowned along a bayou and a woman drowned while trapped in a flooded elevator in the basement of the Bank of America building downtown. Another man died when his car was submerged in water under a bridge.

Already saturated by days of heavy rains, dozens of creeks and bayous that snake through downtown Houston leaped their banks after Friday night's downpour and flowed into streets and nearby neighborhoods. The city's skyscrapers seemed themselves to be emerging from the sea, and pressure from rising floodwaters caused 20-foot geysers to spurt from the expansion cracks in freeway overpasses.

By this evening, the water had receded in many parts of the city. But abandoned cars and trucks snarled traffic throughout the city, and dozens of intersections remained underwater as darkness fell.

At the Texas Medical Center near the city center, nurses were reportedly hand-ventilating patients on respirators and using stairways to race between floors to deliver medicines after power failures shut down the elevators. And hospitals throughout the city were urging that nonemergency patients be taken to facilities in Austin or Dallas.

"We would plead of the Houston community that this combined resource be used only for life-threatening critical services that need an intensive care unit, need specialized facilities, or need an immediate operation," said Dr. Ken Mattox, chief of the trauma unit at the Ben Taub hospital. "The storm has crippled every hospital in the Texas Medical Center."

All major highways into the city had some flooding, and along the Katy Freeway on Houston's west side, 18-wheeled tractor-trailer rigs were reported swept from the roadway by rapidly rising water.

The city's fire chief, Danny Smith, said, "I've lived here all my life and I've never seen flooding like this." His department received over 2,500 emergency calls between 5 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. today. "They're all stranded motorists or people in residences calling to be evacuated," Chief Smith said.

State disaster officials dispatched 26 high-water vehicles and 22 boats to the area, and surrounding communities raced to get additional rafts and boats into Houston to help with evacuations. In one neighborhood in southeast Houston, residents ferried pets and clothing to higher ground using swimming pool rafts.

City officials hope some of the water will recede before the next deluge, but forecasters are predicting more rain for tonight and Sunday as Allison churns offshore in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

"We really need a couple of days without rain to get any drainage," said Wes Johnson, a spokesman for the city's Department of Public Works and Engineering. Of particular concern, Mr. Johnson said, are residents who are wading in the water. Like the sewage systems in most cities, Houston's system has ventilation holes to prevent the buildup of potentially explosive methane gas. Floodwaters have flowed into the openings and carried raw sewage back out.

"We're trying to make people understand that they could get a serious infection if they are out there knee deep in the water," Mr. Johnson said.

Meteorologists said the system appeared to be heading back to the gulf, where it might gather strength.

In Louisiana, The Associated Press reported, dozens of alligators stirred up by the storm's thunder, lightning and heavy rain have been wandering into residential areas.

Kathy Smith did not believe her daughter had really seen an alligator in their yard in LaPlace, La., until she saw a neighbor trying to catch one on Friday. "I said, `You get him, and I'm about to call 911,' " she told the news service.

In Houston, just driving home could be an adventure.

G. J. Loh and his wife, Jennifer, left downtown shortly before midnight Friday for their home on the west side of Houston, a trip that normally takes 30 minutes. They arrived home about 6:30 this morning.

"We drove through water where it was extremely difficult to judge how high it was," Mr. Loh said. "You almost didn't know until the car in front of you went through or you took your chances. Once you go there's no turning back."

Corey Ray, a spokesman for Mayor Lee P. Brown, said 3,000 homes and businesses had been damaged so far by the storm and estimated that 10,000 people would need some type of housing because their homes had been affected by rising water.

But officials believe those numbers could rise if Allison regains strength and continues to pound the Texas coast.

"We're in a `wait and see' situation," Mr. Ray said.

Rain will persist in soaked Texas, Louisiana cities, June 8, 2001

Bailing. Wading. Waiting. Many Texas and Louisiana residents begin this weekend soaked to the bone, while murky floodwaters seep into their furniture, cars, homes and roads. And the forecast doesn't hold much hope: more rain will fall through early next week.

Some 1,500 homes are flooded in the Houston area. In order for the water to reach most houses, it first had to cover streets, where it stranded motorists. Fire officials evacuated about 150 people from their cars.

The weather may have contributed to one death on the roads. Local authorities in Houston are trying to determine if weather played a role in the death of a 20-year-old woman, whose car rolled into a drainage ditch.

The flooding is the result of remnants of Tropical Storm Allison. The storm weakened after making landfall Tuesday night, but the rain-producing clouds haven't moved away.

Between five and 11 inches of rain soaked southern and southwestern parts of the Houston area early Thursday morning. More than 16 inches fell in Baton Rouge, La., and more than eight inches drenched the New Orleans area by early this morning.

Authorities closed more than 160 roads in the Baton Rouge area alone. Other closures were reported across the southern half of the state.

Also near Baton Rouge, thunderstorms associated with the system may have spawned a brief tornado outside of Zachary, La., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A 70-year-old man died when a tree fell on the car he was driving.

The flooding and severe weather is a reminder that even a weak tropical system can be devastating.

"The message forecasters continue to stress is that it doesn't take a major hurricane to cause major problems. A tropical storm that moves inland and stalls can cause major damage. Allison is a classic example," said Steve Rinard, meteorologist-in-charge of the weather service forecast office in Lake Charles, La.

Southeastern Texas and South Louisiana remain under flash flood advisories today, as more rain is forecast for the already-soaked region.