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Hundreds rescued from floodwaters around Houston as millions in Texas, Oklahoma, remain under threat

Houston-area flooding worsens as hundreds rescued
Houston-area flooding worsens as hundreds rescued 02:28

High waters flooded neighborhoods around Houston on Saturday following heavy rains that have already resulted in crews rescuing more than 400 people from homes, rooftops and roads engulfed in murky water. Others prepared to evacuate their property.

A wide region was swamped from Houston to rural East Texas, where game wardens rode airboats through waist-high waters rescuing both people and pets who did not evacuate in time. One crew brought a family and three dogs aboard as rising waters surrounded their cars and home.

Houston flooding
Cars are submerged and the tops of mailboxes are visible along a residential street in Woodloch, Texas, north of Houston, near The Woodlands, as floodwaters rise on May 3, 2024.  Kirk Sides/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

 A flood watch was in effect through Sunday afternoon, as forecasters predicted additional rainfall Saturday night and the likelihood of major flooding. About 11 million people in Texas and Oklahoma are under flood warnings and watches this weekend. 

Friday's storms forced numerous high-water rescues, including some from the rooftops of flooded homes. One such incident was caught on camera, as someone filmed a large truck being swept away as its driver jumped from the cab. The driver was later rescued. 

Officials redoubled urgent instructions for residents in low-lying areas to evacuate, warning the worst was still to come.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Saturday that the area is expecting more rain on Sunday and if it's a lot, it could be problematic. Hidalgo is the top elected official in the nation's third-largest county.

More than 21 inches of rain fell during the five-day period that ended Friday in Liberty County near Splendora, a city about 30 miles northeast of Houston, according to the National Weather Service.

Hidalgo said Saturday that 178 people have been rescued and 122 pets have been rescued so far in the county. Scores of rescues took place in neighboring Montgomery County. In Polk County, located about 100 miles from Houston, officials said they have done over 100 water rescues in the past few days.

"A lull in heavy rain is expected through (Saturday) evening," the National Weather Service said. "The next round of heavy rainfall is expected late (Saturday) into Sunday."

A Houston fire truck makes it way through flood water after severe flooding, Thursday, May 2, 2024. Houston Chronicle/Hearst Newspap

Aron Brown, 45, and his wife Jamie Brown, 41, were two of the many residents who drove or walked to watch the rising waters near a flooded intersection close to the San Jacinto River in the northeast Houston neighborhood of Kingwood.

The floodwaters had risen several feet and had begun to flood nearby restaurants and a gas station.

Brown, who had driven from his home in a golf cart, said the flooding wasn't as bad as Hurricane Harvey in 2017. He pointed to nearby power lines and said that flooding during Harvey had reached the top of the lines.

Most weekends, Miguel Flores Sr. is mowing his huge backyard on a 2 1/2 acre lot behind his home in Kingwood. But on Saturday, he and his family were loading several vehicles with clothes, small appliances and other items before flood waters inundated his home.

Waters from the nearby San Jacinto River had swallowed his backyard and continued to rise on Saturday.

Flores said the water in his backyard was only about 1 foot high on Friday. On Saturday, the water level now measured about 4 feet.

"It's sad, but what can I do," Flores said. He added that he has flood insurance.

For weeks, drenching rains in Texas and parts of Louisiana have filled reservoirs and saturated the ground. Floodwaters partially submerged cars and roads this week across parts of southeastern Texas, north of Houston, where high waters reached the roofs of some homes. Hundreds of structures are flooded, and more are dealing with power outages

In the rural community of Shepherd, Gilroy Fernandes said he and his spouse had about an hour to evacuate after a mandatory order. Their home is on stilts near the Trinity River, and they felt relief when the water began to recede on Thursday.

Then the danger grew while they slept.

"Next thing you know, overnight they started releasing more water from the dam at Livingston. And so that caused the level of the river to shoot up by almost 5 or 6 feet overnight," Fernandes said. Neighbors who left an hour later got stuck in traffic because of flooding.

In Montgomery County, Judge Mark Keough said there had been more high-water rescues than he was able to count.

"We estimate we've had a couple hundred rescues from homes, from houses, from vehicles," Keough said.

Flooding worsens in southeast Texas, forcing mandatory evacuations in some areas 02:37

She said homes below Lake Livingston Dam and along the Trinity River have flooded.

"It'll be when things subside before we can do our damage assessment," Comstock said.

The U.S. Coast Guard said they evacuated via helicopter an hours-old baby from Cleveland, Texas amid the floodwaters. The baby, who was just 12 hours old, was reportedly experiencing low oxygen levels at Texas Emergency Hospital. The hospital does not have a neonatal intensive care unit, and flooding made it impossible to transport the baby to another facility via ambulance. The helicopter crew transported the baby, mother and a paramedic to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. The baby is in stable condition, the Coast Guard said. 

Authorities in Houston had not reported any deaths or injuries. The city of more than 2 million people is one of the most flood-prone metro areas in the country and has long experience dealing with devastating weather.

Hurricane Harvey in 2017 dumped historic rainfall on the area, flooding thousands of homes and resulting in more than 60,000 rescues by government rescue personnel across Harris County.

Of particular concern was an area along the San Jacinto River in the northeastern part of Harris County, which was expected to continue rising as more rain falls and officials release extra water from an already full reservoir. Judge Hidalgo on Thursday issued a mandatory evacuation order for those living along portions of the river.

Most of Houston's city limits were not heavily impacted by the weather, except for the northeastern neighborhood of Kingwood. Officials said the area had about four months of rain in about a week's time. Houston Mayor John Whitmire said rising flood waters from the San Jacinto River were expected to impact Kingwood late Friday and Saturday.

Shelters have opened across the region, including nine by the American Red Cross.

The greater Houston area covers about 10,000 square miles — a footprint slightly bigger than New Jersey. It is crisscrossed by about 1,700 miles of channels, creeks and bayous that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles to the southeast from downtown.

The city's system of bayous and reservoirs was built to drain heavy rains. But engineering initially designed nearly 100 years ago has struggled to keep up with the city's growth and bigger storms.

Texas family describes harrowing escape from devastating tornado 02:45

Residents in rural central and west Texas are also working to recover from tornadoes that left a trail of damage. In Hawley, Texas, two people were hurt Thursday, and the twisters left a trail of damage. This weekend's storms pose the threat of more tornadoes. 

Texas isn't the only area facing severe weather this weekend. Americans from Louisiana to Oregon are under the threat of severe, slow-moving storms. In Oregon's Cascades region, a winter weather warning was issued as the region braces for at least a foot of snow, according to local media

Vice President Kamala Harris canceled a planned trip to a music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada after the event was canceled due to a high wind warning. Organizers said they are expecting winds between 30 and 35 miles per hour, with gusts of up to 60 miles per hour. 

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