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8 dead in Houston flooding: ‘Gators, snakes. We’ve seen it all.’

Posted at 4:22 PM, Apr 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-20 16:22:43-04

Military-type vehicles and boats were used to rescue more than 50 senior citizens from two assisted-living facilities in Houston.

“Never in my life,” Nina Pena told CNN affiliate KPRC-TV.

“I was watching all the water on the streets and never had seen that before.”

In north Harris County, rescuer Chris Westfield told CNN affiliate KTRK-TV on Wednesday that he was conducting house-to-house searches on a pontoon boat for residents who had refused to evacuate a day earlier.

“You have a lot of critters that come out, that want to get into the dry spots, into the higher elevations,” he told the station. “Gators, snakes. We’ve seen it all … over the last couple days.”

As parts of Houston begin the recovery from paralyzing flooding, some residents aren’t feeling hopeful.

The catastrophic flooding has already killed eight people, flooded more than 1,000 homes and caused more than $5 billion in damage, officials said.

Cypress Creek in northwest Houston crested Monday and is slowly falling, but forecasters said additional rains could push it higher.

More rain and thunderstorms are in the forecast, with flash-flood watches covering more than 9 million people — including the Houston metro area, which will be pelted by thunderstorms Wednesday and Thursday.

One to three inches of rain are likely in the heavier storms, according to forecasters. The extra rain in the coming days could create 500-year level floods.

In the community of Meyerland in southwest Houston, heavy rain meant flashbacks of last year’s devastating Memorial Day floods.

“I get shakes,” June Pool, who moved back into her home two months ago after repairs from the previous flood, told KPRC.

“It’s still so traumatizing. You just can’t go through this. This is not even a year later.”

The Houston-area community of Hockley got pummeled with 17 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. That’s more rain than Salt Lake City gets in a year.

State of disaster

Of the eight fatalities, four people died in Houston and two others in Harris County, one in Waller County and another in Austin County, according to Michael Walter, a spokesman with Houston’s Office of Emergency Management.

The dead included Houston Community College student Claudia Melgar, who accidentally drove into 30 feet of floodwater as a toll road worker tried to chase her vehicle to get her to stop, KPRC reported.

Also, Teri Rodriguez, 43, a mother of three, who drowned after driving into a drainage ditch; schoolteacher Charles Odum, who died inside his car after it was submerged in Waller County; Sunita Singh, a mother of two who died after she drove her car into floodwaters; and German Antonio Franco, 66, who was found in his submerged car, according to the station.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for nine counties in and around the Houston area.

Emergency crews made more than 1,200 high-water rescues as some residents swam out of their homes.

Slow recovery

At the height of the flooding, about 123,000 homes had no power, said CenterPoint Energy, the utility company that serves most of the Houston area.

By midday Tuesday, crews had restored power to most of the homes.

And the city has started making schedules for debris collection, said Janice Evans, spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.

But given Houston’s flat topography, the floodwaters won’t disappear anytime soon, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

‘Turn around, don’t drown’

The flooding this week made for some dramatic rescues, including a man who was seconds away from being submerged.

Just before members of a news crew from KTRK were about to go on air at the edge of a flooded road, they saw the man’s black Toyota Prius drive into the water and quickly float away.

The man opened the door, and reporter Steve Campion yelled for him to get out of the car.

“You gotta get out!” he yelled. The man hesitated as Campion yelled, “Swim! Swim! Leave the car. Swim!”

The man finally swam toward Campion, and as the reporter helped him onto dry land, the car disappeared beneath the water.

Campion said later, “It certainly is a reminder to turn around, don’t drown. We say that in Houston so often, but you really never know how deep the water is.”

Billions of gallons of rain

An estimated 240 billion gallons of rain fell on the Houston area in the past few days, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

He called it the most significant flood event since Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which left 41 people dead. It caused more than $5 billion in property damage in Harris County alone, the county’s Flood Control District said.