— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 28, 2017
On Monday morning, the continuing saga of Tropical Storm Harvey grew worse for Houston after meteorologists said the city would be inundated with up to 50 inches of rain in some areas. FEMA head Brock Long, who already said that his agency is prepared to toil for years of recovery, made the rounds and spoke with CBS News. He called this a “landmark” weather event (and expects over 450,000 people to seek FEMA aid) but emphasizes that this is still a “life-safety, life-sustaining mission” with emphasis on search, rescue, and stabilization, so recovery isn’t even on the board yet. With that in mind, the Army Corps of Engineers had no choice but to begin releasing waters from two Houston dams (Addicks and Barker) into the Buffalo Bayou.
ABC News reports that the unprecedented process (“the first time engineers have done this for flood control”) began at around 2am in order to ward off more “uncontrollable” flooding of the Houston-metro area. However, this move could come at the expense of flooding “thousands” more Houston homes, but Galveston District Commander Col. Lars Zetterstrom said there was no other available option, for the reservoirs have been rising at the rate of one foot per hour:
“If we don’t begin releasing now, the volume of uncontrolled water around the dams will be higher and have a greater impact on the surrounding communities …. [but] It’s going to be better to release the water through the gates directly into Buffalo Bayou as opposed to letting it go around the end and through additional neighborhoods and ultimately into the bayou.”
The dams, both constructed in the 1940s, have been taxed (along with all of Houston’s infrastructure) by this extraordinary event more than by any previous Atlantic cyclone-related event. In addition, Houston added several additional upstream neighborhoods since the dams’ planning phases, which throws another wild card in the mix.
Immediately, roads closed as a result of the releases, which shall be timed for the least amount of impact possible. Rain from the tropical storm is expected to continue in Houston for days, and nearby communities like Dickinson have been hit just as hard with one viral photo that will likely become what people remember from this storm for decades to come.
President Trump, who received briefs on storm coverage from Camp David this weekend, plans to tour southeast Texas flood damage on Tuesday. He’s tweeted several times about Harvey, but one particular tweet has struck some as a little … enthused: “HISTORIC rainfall in Houston, and all over Texas. Floods are unprecedented, and more rain coming. Spirit of the people is incredible.Thanks!”
UPDATE #1 – 12:40pm EST: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has activated all 12,000 members of the state’s National Guard to assist in search and rescue operations. That’s up from 4,000 members activated over the past few days.