Thousands of people were forced from their homes or stranded on flooded freeways as rains from Tropical Storm Allison swept Houston. As of Monday, June 11, fifteen people had been found dead and more than 20,000 rendered homeless in the Houston area, and massive rainfall totals had been recorded across most of east Texas and Louisiana as well.
Highways were turned into lakes and rivers, and three people died in the flood. One woman was found drowned in a downtown Houston office building. She was in an elevator that lost power during the storm and plunged to the flooded basement.
?It?s bad, it is a disaster,? said Mayor Lee Brown, as he toured the city by helicopter. ?Some subdivisions are flooding over,? he said.
The Texas Medical Center suffered power shortages when emergency generators flooded. Some telephone service was interrupted and the 911 line was overwhelmed. Coast Guard helicopters picked up some victims from the roofs of homes. ?As soon as we rescue one person and drop them off, we get diverted to another case,? said Coast Guard spokesman Rob Wyman.
In some areas, traffic signals stopped working, adding to the danger on the streets. Vacationers and long-haul truckers found themselves stranded on the highways, their campers and rigs stalled by flash floods. Some of them bunked in their vehicles, coming out to aid other motorists.
?I came up on this little BMW two-seater, and this executive guy grabbed his briefcase and what he could out of his car and got in,? said Oklahoma City truck driver Daniel Hock. ?That was the last we saw of the car. He just bought it; it had 18,000 miles on it.?
Trucker James Wilson had to swim out of his truck. His trailer floated on Interstate 10 and ended up pinned against a railroad trestle. His cab was nowhere in sight. ?I tried to stay with it, but it was time to go,? he said. ?I ain?t going to go down with the rig.? The National Guard brought out military trucks that were big enough to navigate through deep water.
Texas State Trooper Michael Smith arrived at I-10 as water started pouring into the freeway from surrounding Houston streets. ?We found one minivan with a mother and 2 children,? he said. ?The water was coming in and they were in shock, they weren?t sure what they were going to do.? A stranded registered nurse helped treat one of the children.
Two police officers fell out of a boat during a rescue attempt. ?They were found safe, clinging to a tree,? says police spokesman Robert Hurst. ?It just shows how dangerous the situation is.?
The flood disrupted access to an estimated 76,000 automated teller machines in 22 states, according to Julian Read, a spokesman for PULSE, the company that runs cash machines at more than 2,600 banks.
Louisiana was affected, as well as Texas. High winds caused by Tropical Storm Allison knocked a tree over onto a truck being driven by a man near Baton Rouge, killing him. 225 families in the area evacuated their homes.
One of the evacuees was Gary Rains, who returned Saturday by boat to bring supplies to neighbors who stayed behind in the upper level of their home. ?When I first left Thursday night there was a foot of water in my house,? he said. ?When I came back today, there were five feet. Everything?s gone. All we got out with were some clothes, wedding pictures and baby formula.?
Electricity and phone service was out in Louisiana neighborhoods hit by the flood. Rains?s neighbors used a generator for power.
Kathy Smith didn?t believe her daughter had really seen an alligator in their yard in LaPlace, Louisiana until she saw a neighbor trying to catch it. ?I said, ?You get him and I?m about to call 911,?? she says.
Trappers in the area caught 40 alligators last week. ?I?ll release them back into the swamps unless they are big and aggressive,? says Richard Roussel, an alligator control officer for St. John Parish.
President Bush has declared a 28-county disaster area in the region.
As of Monday morning, the storm had headed back out into the Gulf of Mexico, became rejuvenated, and is now threatening Mississippi and Alabama with more heavy rain.
This storm was unusual in two respects: the first is that it became a tropical storm so quickly; the second that it stalled for so long and created such massive flooding. Both of these unusual characteristics fit atmospheric models developed around global warming scenarios.
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