‘Get out now!’ Levee breaches south of Houston as flooding intensifies
HOUSTON — Houston police Sgt. Steve Perez drowned Sunday after Hurricane Harvey struck, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Tuesday. His body was recovered Tuesday morning.
Perez left for work in the dark about 4 a.m. Sunday and “spent about 2½ hours driving around trying to get to his station,” Acevedo said.
The 34-year Houston police veteran drove into an underpass and drowned in floodwater. Perez died two days before his 61st birthday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Perez’s wife urged him to reconsider going to work that morning, the mayor said. But the sergeant told her, “I’ve got work to do,” Turner said.
Exhausted and drenched in filthy floodwater, a sea of volunteers and rescue workers are scrambling to save the latest wave of Harvey’s victims.
Some used fishing boats. Others used big SUVs. One volunteer even used a dump truck to save anyone he could.
Three days after Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas, the stubborn, slow-moving storm wreaked more havoc Tuesday when it caused Houston’s Addicks Reservoir to overflow and breached a levee in nearby Brazoria County.
“It was scary — the water was up to here,” Houston resident Yee Seng said, gesturing to the middle of her chest.
The floodwater that topped Addicks Reservoir deluged her street and turned it into a river. Seng’s boyfriend, Steve Konemany, tried to salvage some of her belongings by floating them on an air mattress.
“We just didn’t want to stick around to see what was going to happen,” Seng said.
Catastrophic flooding from Harvey has already swallowed thousands of homes in the Houston area where officers have rescued more than 3,500 people from the floodwaters, Police Chief Art Acevedo said.
That number is almost certain to keep rising, as countless residents remain trapped in their deluged homes three days after Hurricane Harvey struck.
“Every passing hour, more boats are getting into the water,” Acevedo said Tuesday. “This is a catastrophic event.”
Five people have died from the calamitous storm, and with another landfall expected, the devastation could intensify.
— President Donald Trump landed in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday to meet with local officials and relief organizations. He will not visit the hardest-hit parts of Texas because “the President wants to be very cautious about making sure that any activity doesn’t disrupt the recovery efforts that are still ongoing,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
— Several rain gauges southeast of downtown Houston report more than 48 inches of rain from the storm known as Harvey. That marks the most rain ever recorded in the contiguous United States from a tropical storm that made landfall. The previous record was held by Tropical Storm Amelia, which hit Texas in 1978.
— Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center is hosting more than 9,000 evacuees — almost double the number of cots available. Those who couldn’t get a cot were given pillows and blankets to sleep on the floor, Red Cross spokeswoman Betsy Robertson said. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said city officials were looking for more shelter space.
— Houston officials will not ask for immigration status or documentation from anyone at any shelter, according to tweets in English and Spanish from the city’s verified account.
— Dallas opened a mega-shelter at its downtown convention center.
Floodwater overwhelms levee
The floodwater breached a levee Tuesday in the county south of Houston.
“Get out now!” Brazoria County officials tweeted Tuesday.
Local rivers swelled to major flood stage, county spokeswoman Sharon Trower said.
“The Brazos River is being pounded, and all of that water is coming down from the tributaries and creeks into the river,” she said. “All the roads around us are flooded. We don’t have any evacuation routes to tell people to take.”
Brazoria County sits between the Gulf of Mexico and Houston, which remains the site of Harvey’s most appalling devastation. But Brazoria County’s levee breach is not expected to impact the flooding in Houston.
More wrath to come
As Tropical Storm Harvey hovered over the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, it threatened to dump an additional 15 inches of rain on southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas, including the inundated Houston area.
And the water won’t stop rising anytime soon. Harvey could bring more “catastrophic and life-threatening” flooding before making landfall again Wednesday morning near the Texas-Louisiana border, according to the CNN Weather Center.
Swollen rivers in east Texas aren’t expected to crest until later this week. Federal officials are already predicting the deadly storm will drive 30,000 people into shelters and spur 450,000 people to seek some sort of disaster assistance.
Stuck in a wheelchair as the water rose
People have turned to the walkie-talkie app Zello to report their dire circumstances. Among them were an elderly couple trapped on a roof and a family caught in the maelstrom with three children, including one in the throes of a seizure and another with autism.
Confined to a wheelchair as the water rose, Karen Preston watched as Harvey’s flood took over her home.
Coast Guard rescuers on water scooters plucked her from the flood and to safety — but without her wheelchair.
“I can’t walk. I just had surgery on my knee,” Preston said. “Right now, I’m in so much pain.”
She found herself Tuesday taking shelter at Houston’s convention center. Many have no idea whether their homes have been destroyed.
“How do you go from here?” Preston said, choking back tears. “Where do you start? Where?”
Entire Texas National Guard activated
Thousands of calls for help have gone out across Houston, and state, local and military rescue units have plucked thousands of stranded residents from the water and deluged homes.
“None of us (is) going to give up,” Acevedo said.
The Pentagon is identifying resources, including trucks, aircraft and troops, that can be dispatched for hurricane relief if the request comes, defense officials said. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott activated the entire Texas National Guard, roughly 12,000 Guardsmen, he said Monday.
In Harris County, home to Houston, authorities asked stranded people to hang sheets or towels from their homes so rescuers could spot them more easily.
The scope of how many people are trapped in flooded homes remains unclear.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said she believes the number of trapped residents across Houston could be “tens of thousands.”
Strangers come to help
Volunteers with boats jumped in to help authorities in search-and-rescue efforts.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long encouraged more citizens to volunteer, saying recovery efforts would require community involvement. The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster website can direct people to religious and nongovernmental agencies that are helping people in at least 30 counties, he said.
But as water levels have risen, so has the desperation.
In one instance, people started to panic, rushing rescue boats and even shooting at them if they didn’t stop, one volunteer rescuer said.
Clyde Cain of the Cajun Navy, a Louisiana-based rescue force that gained fame during Hurricane Katrina, said that after one of his team’s boats broke down, people tried to steal the inoperable watercraft while the crew sought shelter in a delivery truck,
“They’re making it difficult for us to rescue them,” he said. “You have people rushing the boat. Everyone wants to get in at the same time. They’re panicking. Water is rising.”
Jim McIngvale, who owns furniture stores in Houston and Richmond, also pitched in. He opened his doors to evacuees Sunday and gave 600 people a place to sleep.
“We have tons of mattresses in our warehouse, and we can provide them with a blanket,” he told CNN. “We have a restaurant inside the stores, and we are feeding them for free.”