HOUSTON (CN) — Tropical Storm Harvey is flooding southern Louisiana after dumping a record-breaking 51 inches of rain on Houston, leaving more than 20 people dead, 10,000 sheltering in a downtown convention center and hundreds of thousands of evacuees wondering what has become of their homes.
Harvey dumped more than a trillion gallons of rain on Harris County, the equivalent of 15 days of water going full tilt over Niagara Falls, according to Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist Jeff Lindner.
Harvey’s withdrawal from Greater Houston brought some relief to people who had been ordered to evacuate their homes near the Brazos River in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston, on Wednesday.
The river is expected to crest on Friday morning as rain water drains from its watershed, Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert said in a statement Wednesday.
He said the National Weather Service has lowered the river’s forecasted crest in Richmond, the county seat, from 57.5 feet to 56 feet.
He said 56 feet is the county’s 100-year flood event, which has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.
“The 100-year flood event is what our levees are designed to defend against. So the new elevation is well within the design capabilities of our levees and I have no indication that any levee is having difficulty keeping the river out,” Hebert said.
But he cautioned that 56 feet is above the river’s record peak of 54.74 feet set during Memorial Day weekend 2016 and many streets that have never flooded will.
“So the evacuation orders remain in place. Freedom of speech and social media can be a very dangerous weapon in an event like this because folks who want to manage the news in their view of the future get out there and send messages that can be misleading. The evacuation orders can only be canceled by order of this county judge,” Hebert said.
Lindner said at a news conference on Wednesday morning that a levee holding back Cypress Creek in the Inverness Forest neighborhood in North Houston near Bush Intercontinental Airport has a crack in it and that if it’s breached, it could flood homes up against the embankment to the rooftops.
He said law enforcement went door-to-door in the neighborhood on Monday telling people to leave and the majority did, but some homeowners had chosen to stay and “I don’t know if they’ve left since then.”
He said the likelihood of a breach is still low.
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick told KTRH-AM early Wednesday that people in Beaumont are overwhelmed, and he’s received reports of people climbing on their cars to escape the flood waters because they couldn’t get to the roofs of their homes.
The American Red Cross set up a shelter at the Bob Bower Civic Center in Port Arthur, but officials said early Wednesday that flood waters had washed into the building.
People have climbed up on bleachers in the building until they can be relocated, KHOU, Houston’s CBS affiliate reported early Wednesday.
Branick said rescue efforts will be more difficult in Beaumont and Port Arthur than in Houston because first responders cannot enter the city from Interstate 10 West. It’s underwater from Beaumont to Houston’s eastern suburbs.