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Searching the Harvey floodwaters with the "Cajun Navy"

Kingwood streets under water
Kingwood streets under water 08:28

As the heavy rains from Tropical Storm Harvey moved east,  Kingwood became one of the harder-hit neighborhoods, situated along the west fork of the San Jacinto River, to the northeast of Houston. 

On Tuesday afternoon and evening we made it into Kingwood with a Texas state police escort. The volunteers we had been shadowing had a 200 horse-power boat, which the police commandeered out of necessity. FEMA officially took over the rescues there at about 2pm local time on Tuesday, after a Houston police department boat and several private volunteer rescuers lost control of their boats in strong current. No craft less than 150 horsepower was considered safe on the currents generated by the floodwaters. 

Just to get to Kingwood we had to cross Lake Houston, find the river, and slip into the area via the flooded-out golf course fairways of the Kingwood Country Club. We saw buildings along the shore submerged to their rooflines, with between four and seven feet of water washing into large, beautiful homes and apartments along the way. Riding the high water, power lines dangled at eye-level from the boat, and street signs were more than half covered. 

FEMA press conference 24:07

There was a 'tang' in the air — the local water treatment plant had been flooded. We saw big jugs floating around, some of them overturned and empty, their contents unclear. 

The current made passage slow and tricky, and we dinged trees as we made our way to two addresses where people had called SOS. Helicopters criss-crossed overhead. 

On board were two members of the so-called Cajun Navy, volunteers from the Baton Rouge area, plus two state police officers. A second large-engined boat helmed by volunteers followed us. Both rescue addresses were flooded but empty — the helicopters or a fire department boat had picked our people up before we got there. 

The work then became one of surveying the area for stragglers. We saw white sheets and signs of distress — stalled cars, opened doors, home debris. But the place was spookily empty, a dunked skeleton of its former self.

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