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Houston flooding: officials warn of worsening conditions

HOUSTON (AP) — Strong storms hit the Houston area again Friday, widening already dangerous floods in Texas and leaving drivers stranded and a school bus with children needing to be rescued in high water. Authorities redoubled urgent instructions for residents in low-lying areas to evacuate, warning that the worst was yet to come.

“This threat continues and is going to get worse. It’s not your typical river flood,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in the nation’s third-largest county.

He described the surge of water as “catastrophic” and said several hundred structures were at risk of flooding. At least two dozen water rescues had already been performed in the county, in addition to bringing 30 pets to safety. Schools in the path of the flood canceled classes and roads became clogged as authorities closed flooded roads.

For weeks, torrential rains in Texas and parts of Louisiana have filled reservoirs and saturated the soil. Floodwaters began partially flooding cars and roads this week in parts of southeast Texas, north of Houston, where high water reached the roofs of some homes.

In the rural community of Shepherd, Gilroy Fernandes said he and his wife had about an hour to evacuate after a mandatory order. His house is on stilts near the Trinity River and they were relieved when the water began to recede Thursday.

Then the danger increased while they slept.

“The next thing you know, overnight they started releasing more water from the Livingston Dam. And that caused the river level to rise almost five or six feet overnight,” Fernandes said. Residents who left an hour later were stuck in traffic due to flooding.

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

“We estimate we’ve had a couple hundred rescues from homes, houses and vehicles,” Keough said.

Houston authorities had reported no deaths or injuries. The city of more than 2 million people is one of the most flood-prone metropolitan areas in the country and has long experience dealing with devastating weather.

Hurricane Harvey in 2017 abandoned historical rain in the area, flooding thousands of homes and causing more than 60,000 rescue by government rescue personnel throughout Harris County.

More than 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain fell over the past 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service, which issued a flood warning through Tuesday for the region.

In Crosby, school officials said the driver of a school bus carrying 27 students stopped his vehicle just before entering high water Friday. The students left through a back door and were taken to the campuses on another bus. “I am proud of the quick action of our bus driver,” said Crosby School District Superintendent Paula Patterson.

Of particular concern was an area along the San Jacinto River in the eastern part of the county that was expected to continue rising as more rain fell and officials released additional water from an already full reservoir. Hidalgo issued a mandatory evacuation order Thursday for those living along parts of the river.

The weather service reported the river was at 20.18 meters (66.2 feet) on Friday morning and was expected to peak at 23.35 meters (76.6 feet) on Saturday. According to the weather service, the river’s flood level is 17.68 meters (58 feet).

Hidalgo warned other people who live along the river in the southern part of the county that they could be stranded for days if they remain in their homes. Shelters were opened across the region, including nine from the American Red Cross.

In the city of Conroe, just north of Houston, rescuers drove boats into neighborhood subdivisions to rescue people and pets from their homes and then transported them from the boats to higher ground. In nearby Livingston, neighborhoods were flooded, with water reaching the windshields of moving pickup trucks and over the bottom of the windows of some buildings.

Last month’s storms in southeast Texas and parts of Louisiana have dumped more than 2 feet (61 centimeters) of rain in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.

The Houston metropolitan area covers approximately 10,000 square miles, an area slightly larger than New Jersey. It is crisscrossed by approximately 1,700 miles (2,736 kilometers) of canals, streams and swamps that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles (about 80 kilometers) southeast of the city center.

The city’s system of swamps and reservoirs were built to drain heavy rains. But the engineering initially designed nearly 100 years ago has struggled to keep up with the city’s growth and larger storms.

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Associated Press reporters Ken Miller in Edmond, Oklahoma, Jim Vertuno in Austin, and Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas, contributed to this report.

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