Houston braces for second round of flash flooding after storms leave 5 dead

People across Houston and surrounding areas sheltered in place Tuesday as officials warned deadly flash flooding would drench the region for a second day, after more than a foot of rain deluged the nation’s fourth-largest city, inundating homes, shutting down major highways and leaving at least five people dead.

“I regret anyone whose home is flooded again,” Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday. “There’s nothing I can say that’s going to ease your frustration. We certainly can’t control the weather.”

Some areas saw water levels approaching 20 inches. Scores of subdivisions flooded, schools were closed, and power was knocked out to thousands of residents who were urged to stay where they were.

“A lot of rain coming in a very short period of time, there’s nothing you can do,” Turner added.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the county’s chief administrator, said thousands of homes there were flooded, many for the first time. At least 450 high-water rescues were conducted, he said.

About 1 million students got the day off, including the Houston Independent School District’s 215,000 students, Texas’ largest public school district. Most colleges and universities also closed because of the bad weather.

Dozens of Houston subdivisions flooded. At least two interstates — I-10, the main east-west freeway, and I-45, the major north-south freeway — were under water near downtown.

One man on the city’s north side emerged from flood waters carrying an armadillo by its armored tail to safety. In another animal rescue, deputies from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department livestock unit used boats to reach an estimated more than 70 horses trapped up their necks in water when their stables were flooded.

Heavy flooding has become nearly an annual rite of passage in the practically sea-level city, where experts have long warned of the potential for catastrophe. Samuel Brody, director of the Environmental Planning Sustainability Research Unit at Texas AM University, last year called Houston “the No. 1 city in America to be injured and die in a flood.”

Rainstorms last year over Memorial Day weekend caused major flooding that required authorities to rescue 20 people, most of them drivers, from high water. Drivers abandoned at least 2,500 vehicles, and more than 1,000 homes were damaged in the rain.

The year before, flash flooding in Houston and suburban counties left cars trapped on major highways.

Those storms still pale in comparison to the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Allison left behind $5 billion in damages and flooded parts of downtown and the Texas Medical Center, which sits near the Brays Bayou, a key watershed.

In addition to its location, Houston’s “gumbo” soft soil, fast-growing population and building boom that has turned empty pastures into housing developments all over the city’s suburbs and exurbs make it vulnerable to high waters, experts say.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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