Torrential Rains Bring Widespread Flooding to Houston Area

A motorist drives through floodwaters on West Mount Houston Road near Interstate 45 North, Tuesday. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)

HOUSTON (AP) - Heavy rains that caused flooding in some parts of the Houston area and prompted about two-dozen water rescues on Tuesday eased before causing major damage, but with more rain expected authorities remained on guard and warned residents to stay alert.

While thunderstorms that dropped up to 5 to 6 inches of rain in some parts of Houston overnight had mostly moved out of the area Tuesday, additional storms could pop up Tuesday evening, which could cause additional flooding in areas already saturated by rainfall.

“We don’t want anyone to let their guard down just because it stopped raining for now,” said Michael Walter, a spokesman for Houston’s Office of Emergency Management.

Authorities plan to pre-stage emergency vehicles and barricades in different areas of Houston in case expected rainfall Tuesday afternoon and evening becomes problematic, he said.

The National Weather Service has issued a flash-flood watch for the region until Wednesday morning. The weather service said additional rainfall was forecast for Tuesday night, but the greatest potential for heavy rain was expected in areas east of Houston.

Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District, said he expects some homes and structures will be flooded but that tally is still being determined. Houston is located in Harris County.

While flooding is nothing new in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city has had more frequent and destructive floods in its recent history.

Since 1986, extreme downpours — the type measured in double-digit inches — have occurred twice as often as in the previous 30 years, an AP weather analysis last year showed.

Houston is the only major U.S. city without zoning rules, and unrestrained development has also meant more pavement and less water-absorbing wetlands that could help mitigate flooding.

Jose Luis Ruiz spent Tuesday sweeping out about 1 foot of water that flooded his North Houston resale shop and moving soggy merchandise, including furniture, suitcases and small appliances, outside to dry.

Ruiz, 53, said he will likely have to throw away at least $2,000 in merchandise and is now looking to move his business, which has flooded twice before and is located behind a bayou that overflowed from its banks on Tuesday.

“It’s very sad because this is a small business. It’s not a grand thing but it’s our living. When this happens, it’s a blow to you because you have to start over,” Ruiz said.

A lack of heavy rain through Tuesday afternoon had helped return all bayous and creeks to within their banks and cleared all reported high water locations along Houston roadways.

Many of the streets, roadways and neighborhoods that got flooded on Tuesday were locations that have had flooding in the past, Lindner said.

“This is one of the more kind of marginal rain events, where the rain stopped just an inch or two before we really got into serious problems and potential to affect a lot of homes,” Lindner said.

For the most part, the area’s system of bayous and other man-made channels that dispatch storm runoff to the Gulf of Mexico “did a good job even though the ground was wet and the rainfall was very intense overnight,” Lindner said.

According to the flood control district, only a few local bayous had overflowed their banks and caused some flooding of homes and businesses.

Both Lindner and Walter said recent heavy rain events in Houston in May 2015 — when seven people were killed — and April 2016 — when eight people were killed — were more serious and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The same storm system that hit Houston also brought widespread flooding to San Antonio and other areas on Monday. The San Antonio area was mostly clear on Tuesday with some scattered showers and thunderstorms.