HOUSTON — Flooding brought Houston to a near-standstill Tuesday, sending normally tame rivers and bayous surging out of their banks, inundating streets and homes, and leaving highways littered with hundreds of abandoned, ruined cars.
As much as 10 inches of rain lashed the Houston area overnight, and added to floodwaters flowing downstream from areas of central Texas that were swamped over the holiday weekend, causing waterways to rise from trickle to torrent faster than people could get out of the way.
Houston’s METRO mass transit system suspended all rail and bus service, and the Houston Independent School District, with more than 215,000 students, closed all of its schools and offices Tuesday. Even as officials asked people to avoid driving, and warned that emergency crews might not be able to rescue them, miles-long traffic jams formed where floods severed major roads and highways.
Houston officials activated an emergency operations center and delayed some employee start times, declaring an emergency at the highest level of its four-tiered emergency management system, for the first time since Hurricane Ike in September 2008.
The Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management reported that hundreds of homes had been flooded on the west side of the county, which includes Houston.
The weekend’s weather left at least five people dead in Texas and Oklahoma, and more people were missing.
Wimberley and nearby San Marcos, a pair of Blanco River towns off the Interstate 35 corridor linking Austin and San Antonio, appear to have been the hardest-hit towns in the United States. But in Ciudad Acua, a Mexican city on the border west of San Antonio, a tornado leveled blocks of buildings at sunrise Monday and killed at least 13 people.
“We’ve seen lots of flooding - nothing to this magnitude,” Mayor Daniel Guerrero of San Marcos told CNN on Tuesday.
In Hill Country in Texas, Louie Bond, a magazine editor and former editor of Wimberley’s newspaper, called it a tsunami — a surge of water that began late Saturday night with torrential rains and raced down the valley carved out by the Blanco River.
By the time the water reached the vacation getaways and retirees’ cabins overlooking the river at Wimberley, some 30 miles southwest of here, the surge was 40 feet high, sweeping away bridges, homes and ancient stands of cypresses as if they were bath toys.