Residents are evacuated from their apartment complex surrounded by floodwaters in Houston. Storms have dumped more than a foot of rain in the Houston area, flooding dozens of neighborhoods and forcing the closure of city offices and the suspension of public transit.(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
Residents of the Arbor Court apartments evacuate their flooded apartment complex in The Woodlands, Texas.(Brett Coomer / Associated Press)
Meital Harari cleans water out of her Meyerland home in Houston. Her family rode out the storm at a nearby house because her daughter has nightmares from the Memorial Day floods.(Jon Shapley / Associated Press)
Emergency personnel carry a woman from a rescue boat as people are evacuated from Arbor Court Apartments in Houston.(Melissa Phillip / Associated Press)
Edgar Peneda, of Roadway Construction, inspects a collapsed retention wall along eastbound U.S. Highway 290 at Huffmeister after heavy rain in Houston.(Gary Coronado / Associated Press)
A man paddles a kayak out of high water in the Timber Lakes Timber Ridge subdivision in The Woodlands, Texas.(Brett Coomer / Associated Press)
Richard Lopez and Allie Hairford-Siemens hold the reins of three horses as they lead them from the back of truck through flood water along Cypress Rosehill Rd. in Cypress, Texas.(Melissa Phillip / Associated Press)
Residents are helped into the back of a truck as they leave their apartment complex surrounded by floodwaters in Houston. Storms have dumped more than a foot of rain in the Houston area.(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
A man walks in knee-deep water in his neighborhood in The Woodlands, Texas.(Brett Coomer / Associated Press)
Juan Tadoro carries his son Brandon through floodwaters as they evacuate their flooded apartment complex in Houston.(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
As more than a foot of rain deluged the nation’s fourth-largest city, inundating homes, shutting down major highways and leaving at least five people dead, Houston’s mayor said there was no immediate solution.
Heavy flooding has become nearly an annual rite of passage in the practically sea-level city, where experts have long warned of the potential for catastrophe.
“I regret anyone whose home is flooded again,” said Sylvester Turner, the city’s mayor, on Monday. “There’s nothing I can say that’s going to ease your frustration. We certainly can’t control the weather.”
“A lot of rain coming in a very short period of time, there’s nothing you can do,” he added.
Flash flooding and more rain are possible Tuesday, a day after some areas saw water levels approaching 20 inches. Scores of subdivisions flooded, schools were closed, and power was knocked out to thousands of residents who were urged to shelter in place.
Harris County, where Houston and many of its suburbs are located, has seen a 30% jump in population since 2000. Its surrounding counties have grown almost more than 10% since 2000, according to the Greater Houston Partnership, a business group.
Some of the resulting developments include adequate greenspace for water runoff, but not all of them do, said Philip Bedient, an engineering professor at Rice University.
“Could we have engineered our way out of this?” Bedient said. “Only if we started talking about alterations 35 or 40 years ago.”
Samuel Brody, director of the Environmental Planning & Sustainability Research Unit at Texas A&M University, last year called Houston “the No. 1 city in America to be injured and die in a flood.”
Rainstorms last year over Memorial Day weekend caused major flooding that required authorities to rescue 20 people, most of them drivers, from high water. Drivers abandoned at least 2,500 vehicles, and more than 1,000 homes were damaged in the rain.
The year before, flash flooding in Houston and suburban counties left cars trapped on major highways.
Those storms still pale in comparison to the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Allison left behind $5 billion in damage and flooded parts of downtown and the Texas Medical Center, which sits near the Brays Bayou, a key watershed.
Bedient has worked with the Texas Medical Center on better preparing its facilities for massive rainfall, including the use of a sophisticated weather alert system that gives the medical center extra time to activate gates and doors that block excess rainwater.
Improving the monitoring of specific watersheds and flood-prone areas might give affected residents the extra bit of time they need to save lives and take protective measures.
“We can’t solve this flood problem in Houston,” Bedient said. “All we can do is a better job warning.”