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Houston Area Is Inundated With Rain And Catastrophic Flooding

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene in Houston, Texas, where much of this city and surrounding areas are experiencing unprecedented flooding. Tropical Storm Harvey is just sitting over coastal Texas. And the National Weather Service says another 15 to 25 inches of rainfall is expected through Thursday. We're in the north of Houston. We were heading downtown last night but had to turn away because of a flooded interstate.

Andrew Schneider from Houston Public Media is about 20 miles or so from us in the heart of the city. And Andrew, what does the city feel like to you this morning?

ANDREW SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: This is really the nightmare scenario, David. We've got something like 2,500 miles worth of waterways that snake through the city. And right now, just about all of them are overflowing. And with more rainfall on the way after something like 25 inches that have already fallen in the area...

GREENE: Yeah.

SCHNEIDER: ...There's really no relief in sight. It's - you know, it's eerie. I'm actually overlooking what is now essentially an extension of Brays Bayou. And it's normally U.S. 59, one of the main highways that runs through the city.

GREENE: You normally know it as U.S. 59, but it doesn't look anything like it this morning.

SCHNEIDER: No. No. It's - you know, it's not even adequate to call it a river at this point. It's more like a lake.

GREENE: Wow.

SCHNEIDER: And the truly frightening part of it is, this is a highway that's normally sunk into the ground by a couple of meters. And the water has been making its way, slowly, up the sides of the embankment. If it actually makes it to the top, the entire neighborhood here in midtown Houston is going to be in real trouble.

I actually went down to an overpass last night during a break in the rain. And I spoke to a few residents who'd had to evacuate a neighborhood closer to downtown. One of them was a woman by the name of Giralda Keyrose (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GIRALDA KEYROSE: Alls we're trying to do is see what freeway we can get on to try to find dry land. All of our family are underwater. They're stuck, too. So we don't know what freeway, where to go, if there's a hotel. We don't know where to stay.

GREENE: So she's trapped. I mean, she's feeling trapped right now.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, yeah. I ran into her when she was actually in a car with two other people from her apartment building. They had all had to flee when the Buffalo Bayou overflowed its banks. And they had spent a good chunk of the day trying to help people whose cars had been stuck. But they themselves didn't have any idea where to go.

GREENE: It seems like a lot of people around the city are talking about these two dams, the Addicks Dam and the Barker Dam. They were rated some of the most unsafe dams in the entire United States, which does - which sounds pretty ominous at a moment like this. How are they holding up, and what what would the impact be if they don't hold up?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the Army Corps of Engineers actually planned release of - had a couple of planned releases scheduled from both of these dams. Addicks was supposed to be released about 2 a.m. and Barker about 24 hours later. They had to let both of those - - they had to let - I'm sorry - they had to let Addicks go early. And the problem is there are thousands of homes in the way of the floodwaters there. So if those dams fail, it's going to be really bad.

GREENE: All right, we are covering the storm here in Houston. That's Andrew Schneider from Houston Public Media. He is in the heart of the city right now - has been talking to some residents who are trying to figure out a way to get out. Andrew, thanks very much.

SCHNEIDER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.