Rising floodwaters overwhelm rescue efforts in Houston | USA News

Devastating floods in the southern US city of Houston forced thousands to flee their homes and overwhelmed rescuers who could not keep up with constant calls for help.

The incessant rain brought by Hurricane Harvey covered much of Houston on Monday.

Texas’ largest city was submerged in turbid, grey-green water, with streets navigable only by boat.

In a frantic rescue effort, helicopters landed near flooded motorways, airboats buzzed across neighbourhoods and high-water vehicles ploughed through water-logged intersections late on Sunday.

Some people used kayaks, inflatable beach toys and air mattresses to get to safety.

Volunteers joined emergency teams to pull people from their rooftops or from the water, which was high enough in places to gush into second floors.

READ MORE: Facing Hurricane Harvey

Some formed human chains while others fired up their motorboats and jet skis to pluck their fellow Texans to safety.

“I’m not even thinking about myself right now,” Bryan Curtis, who volunteered his jet ski into an emergency rescue vehicle, told the AFP news agency. “It’s just people need help, I’m here to help, I want to do my part.”

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office rescued more than 2,000 people in the greater Houston area using vehicles including motorboats, airboats and humvees on Sunday, a spokesman said.

Hundreds of rescue workers have joined rescue operations in Texas [David J. Phillip/AP]

Harvey made landfall late on Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and has continued to drop heavy rain as a tropical storm.

Parts of Texas are expected to see a year’s worth of rainfall in the span of a week.

The storm has so far affected about a quarter of the Texas population, or 6.8 million people in 18 counties, Reuters said, citing federal disaster declarations.

The US National Weather Service said the “breadth and intensity of this rainfall is beyond anything experienced before”.

Harvey was blamed for at least two deaths, and officials fear the death toll may rise as the storm triggers additional tidal surges and tornadoes.

Mass evacuations 

Authorities ordered more than 50,000 people to leave parts of Fort Bend County, about 55km southwest of Houston, as the Brazos River was set to crest at a record high of 59ft this week – 14ft above its flood stage.

Brazos County Judge Robert Hebert told reporters the forecast crest represents a high not seen in at least 800 years.

“What we’re seeing is the most devastating flood event in Houston’s recorded history,” said Steve Bowen, chief meteorologist at reinsurance firm Aon Benfield.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he will deploy an additional 1,000 National Guard troops for rescue missions. He had already called up 3,000 troops over the weekend.  

Texas’s Dickinson struggles in the wake of Hurricane Harvey

Rescuers had to give top priority to life-and-death situations, leaving many affected families to fend for themselves.

Marie Bartlett, 88, who was rescued by her son in a rowboat from her second-floor bedroom, told the Associated Press: “In my 40 years here, I’ve never seen the water this high.”

Jose Rengel, a 47-year-old construction worker who lives in Galveston, was helping with rescue efforts in Dickinson, southeast of Houston, where he saw water cresting the tops of cars.

“I am blessed that not much has happened to me, but these people lost everything. And it keeps raining,” he told the Associated Press.

One man was spotted clinging to a tree on Saturday night by police patrol officers who then formed a human chain across a bayou to save him.

Refuge to survivors 

Houston’s George R Brown Convention Center was quickly opened as a shelter. Most of the people at the shelter were African-American or Latino.

Several people told the AP that in hindsight, they wished they had left Houston beforehand.

Before Harvey hit, local officials pushed back against Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s suggestion that people in Houston should leave and did not order a voluntary or mandatory evacuation.

Houston’s George R Brown Convention Center was quickly opened as a shelter [Nick Oxford/Reuters]

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner stood by that decision Sunday, saying an evacuation would have put many people on roads that eventually flooded and endangered more lives than having residents stay in their homes.

But Desiree Mallard disagreed. As she carried her nearly 2-year-old son in her arms and waited to enter the convention hall, Mallard said she saw on the news not to leave, and so she didn’t.

She escaped her apartment by floating her son on an air mattress through floodwaters.

“I could have [left], if I would have known it was going to be this bad, but I didn’t know,” Mallard said. “And then when it got bad, they said, ‘It’s too late to evacuate.'”

Source: News agencies

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