HOUSTON (AP) — More than a foot of rain had fallen by Monday evening in parts of Houston, submerging scores of subdivisions and several major interstate highways, forcing the closure of schools and knocking out power to thousands of residents who were urged to shelter in place.
Four fatalities appeared to be weather related, authorities said.
Sylvester Turner, mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city, told residents to stay home to fend off a weather system he called “stubborn.” More rain was projected over the next two to three days, although heavy downpours had subsided and only another half-inch was expected through Monday night, he said.
Rain gauges in parts of Harris County, which includes most of Houston, showed water levels approaching 20 inches since late Sunday night, with slightly smaller amounts elsewhere in Southeast Texas as bayous and creeks overflowed their banks.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the county’s chief administrator, said two bodies were found in a vehicle shown on traffic cameras driving around barricades and unsuccessfully attempt to navigate a flooded underpass.
In addition, one person, believed a contractor with the city’s airport system, was found in a submerged vehicle not far from the airport. A second person, a truck driver, was found dead in the cab of his rig after encountering high water on a freeway service road.
Several shelters were established for people forced from their homes. At least 1,000 people taken from apartment complexes in the north part of the city and moved to a shopping mall were being ferried by city buses to a shelter, the mayor said.
Emmett said thousands of homes in the county outside Houston were flooded, many for the first time. At least 450 high-water rescues were conducted, he said.
About 1 million students got the day off, including the Houston Independent School District’s 215,000 students, Texas’ largest public school district. Most colleges and universities also closed because of the bad weather.
The storms were part of a wide weather system that left warnings and watches through Tuesday morning for Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Tyler-Longview and as far east as Texarkana.
Houston, at near sea level and known for its “gumbo” soft soil, is no stranger to flooding from torrential rains, tropical storms and hurricanes. Last Memorial Day, heavy rains caused severe flooding in the southwest parts of the city. Bayous that last year overflowed after 11 inches of rain quickly rose again, putting water in at least 200 homes, the mayor said. They appeared to be receding slightly by Monday evening.
In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison inundated parts of the city by dumping as much as nearly 29 inches of rain, causing $5 billion in damages.
“A lot of rain coming in a very short period of time, there’s nothing you can do,” Turner said. “I regret anyone whose home is flooded again. There’s nothing I can say that’s going to ease your frustration. We certainly can’t control the weather.