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In Harvey's Wake

Flash flooding in Houston sparks memories of Harvey

Residents watched cautiously as parts of the city received up to 8 inches of rain.

Streets flood in central Houston during heavy rain on July 4, 2018.

In Harvey's Wake

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Hurricane Harvey left Ty Boufford’s home with 8 inches of water when it struck the Houston area last August. For several days after, Boufford and his family were trapped in their Humble home because of street flooding.

On Thursday, Boufford was once again cleaning up the aftermath of a flood, this time as an employee at Eleanor Tinsley Park in the city. Flash floods on Wednesday led to Buffalo Bayou flooding into the park, the cancellation of Fourth of July festivities, miles of submerged roadways and hundreds of stranded vehicles.

“When I was here yesterday, and the water started coming up, the first thing I did was call my mom to make sure she was okay,” Boufford said. “I think I knew pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to be anything like Harvey, but flooding is just a part of life now here. We have to learn to expect it.”

In the park, blue letters set up in the grass to spell “HOUSTON” floated downstream.

It was the worst flooding the city has seen since Hurricane Harvey hit nearly a year ago.

“It’s just a reminder for us that there’s still a lot of work that we need to do,” said Rob Lazaro, a spokesperson for the Harris County Flood Control District. “A lot of our efforts are still in recovery and emergency repair. The overall watershed improvements that folks are looking for — those for the most part have not occurred. They can take years to build.”

Only a handful of structures were flooded, said Brian Kyle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Unlike Harvey, which hovered over the city for days, yesterday’s storms came in heavy bursts, he said, falling at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour.

“That can’t be absorbed by the ground in that amount of time,” Kyle said. “It builds up in the streets, and that’s where you get street flooding. Water doesn’t really penetrate concrete really well. Even if the area was all grass, if you get that amount of rain in a short time period, it just doesn’t have time to soak it. It runs off, and that’s when you get flooding.”

By the end of the day, the Houston Police Department had towed 347 vehicles, 92 of which were stranded in the water. The remaining 255 were the result of accidents throughout the day.

Rick Flanagan, emergency manager for the city, called it a “tremendous and intense” amount of flooding. Taking note of forecasts, he said, city police, fire and public works departments notified employees ahead of the holiday that extra manpower could be needed. It was.

Involved departments continuously monitored the floods, he said, with police and fire departments feeding information about emergency calls back to Flanagan and his staff.

Added public awareness also helped keep damage to a minimum, Flanagan said. The city issued alerts warning residents to avoid unnecessary travel, and even Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted warnings to residents.

Had the flooding not occurred on a holiday, rush hour traffic could have made matters worse, Kyle said.

“It’s never a good time to flood, but if it has to, a day when most people aren’t working or traffic isn’t as bad as it usually is is a benefit,” Kyle said. “That probably saved a couple of lives in itself.”

Residents and business owners watched the rain cautiously.

“Here we go again,” Amber Ely, manager of The Blue Fish Japanese Restaurant, said she remembered thinking. “I don’t think it will ever be like what it was during Harvey, but that’s still in the back of your head."

Alice Kimsong said she trusted the city to take proper precautions but was still scared. Kimsong is the manager of Padthai Thai Restaurant, located near Buffalo Bayou, a flood-prone body of water in the heart of the city.

After Harvey, the restaurant went without power for one month and was out of business for six months due to repairs.

“We just buy more insurance and after that there’s nothing we can do,” Kimsong said. “We can’t escape it where we are, so that’s all we can do.”

Scattered rain continued throughout the area on Thursday, but Kyle said residents should expect anywhere from no rainfall to a half inch heading into the weekend. Flanagan said with such heavy rainfall on Wednesday, slowed rainfall later in the day was a blessing for the city.  

“The bayous and tributaries had already taken on a lot. We were worried about them coming over the banks,” he said. “Mother Nature really was kind yesterday.”

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