Water 'is swallowing us up' - Houston residents forced on to rooftops by catastrophic floods
HOUSTON, Texas (AP):
Rising floodwaters from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground yesterday in Houston, overwhelming rescuers who fielded countless desperate calls for help.
A fleet of helicopters, airboats and high-water vehicles confronted flooding so widespread that authorities had trouble pinpointing the worst areas. Rescuers got too many calls to respond to each one and had to prioritise life-and-death situations.
The water rose high enough to begin filling second floors - a highly unusual sight for a city built on nearly flat terrain. Authorities urged people to get on top of their homes to avoid becoming trapped in attics, and to wave sheets or towels to draw attention to their location.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez used Twitter to field calls for assistance. Among those seeking help was a woman who posted: "I have two children with me and the water is swallowing us up."
People used inflatable beach toys, rubber rafts and even air mattresses to get through the rising waters to safety. Others simply waded while carrying plastic trash bags stuffed with their belongings.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said authorities had received more than 2,000 calls for help and would be opening the city's main convention centre as a shelter. He urged drivers to stay off flooded roads to avoid adding to the number of stranded people.
"I don't need to tell anyone this is a very, very serious and unprecedented storm," Turner told a news conference. "We have several hundred structural flooding reports. We expect that number to rise pretty dramatically."
The mayor defended his decision not to ask residents to evacuate before the heavy rain from Harvey swamped roads and neighborhoods across the nation's fourth-largest city. He said there was no way to know which neighborhoods would be most vulnerable.
"If you think the situation right now is bad and you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare," he said, citing the risks of sending the city's 2.3 million inhabitants on to the highways at the same time.
Rainfall of more than four inches per hour resulted in water levels higher than in any recent floods and higher than during Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001, said Jeff Linder of flood control district in Harris County, which includes Houston.
Rescue came by land, water and air.