Six dead as Houston floods threaten area; schools, Exxon campus close

April 19, 2016 | 05:22 pm PT
Houston canceled school for a second straight day on Tuesday and Exxon Mobil Corp sent employees home early as a precaution against rain that sent rivers flooding streets, left six dead and led to more than 1,000 water rescues in the country's fourth most populous city.

Exxon said it was worried rising water levels in nearby Spring Creek could flood roads surrounding its new campus and prevent people from leaving or entering.

The National Weather Service put a flash flood watch in effect for large parts of the Houstonarea and into southwestern Louisiana on Tuesday after several inches of rain added to Monday's deluge of as much as 18 inches (45 cm) in some areas of Harris County, which includes Houston.

A low pressure system in Colorado and surrounding states pulled moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, sparking a string of heavy thunderstorms that drenched nine counties, according to the National Weather Service. More rain is expected.

Heavy storms that park atop the city in low winds can overwhelm Houston's system of drainage channels that move water back to the Gulf via the Houston Ship Channel, particularly if the ground is already saturated. The city faced similar widespread flooding during a Memorial Day storm last year and Tropical Storm Allison's torrent in 2001.

All those killed since these storms started were found in vehicles caught on flooded roadways. They include four males and two females. Only one has been identified, Pedro Morales, 60, whose body was found in the cab of an 18-wheeler in a flooded roadway, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences said.

More than 6,300 customers were without power in the Houston area on Tuesday afternoon, a sharp decrease from more than 100,000 a day earlier, CenterPoint Energy said.

Flood waters that blocked roads to downtown and other main areas of the city have mostly receded, and officials said most people should be able to make it back to work.

"The city is back to normal operations but be careful driving in. Now we plan to help people recover from the flooding waters," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a tweet.

At a news conference, he said about 20 inspection teams from city hall were in the field and that 183 houses have been damaged. The city is moving quickly to remove debris so that it does not pile up and shelters are being set up, he said.

"I know that there may be some who may want to go back to their homes, but they may not be habitable. We are working at the same time to find temporary or permanent housing," Turner said.

More than 100 flights were canceled on Tuesday at Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, according to tracking service More than 1,000 flights were canceled at major Texas airports on Monday due to the storms, it said.

Rains in other parts of Texas were expected to cause rivers to crest later in the week, bringing floods to downstream areas.

Texas oil fields and refineries around Galveston Bay were not impacted, though a gasoline-making unit at Royal Dutch Shell Plc's joint-venture Deer Park refinery was shut for up to six weeks, two sources said on Tuesday.

It was not clear if the outage was related to rains, said the sources, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about refinery operations.

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