Officials say worst of flooding still to come
By Joe Southern
Hold onto your hip waders, if you think the flooding from the Brazos River is bad now, just wait; the worst is yet to come.
Emergency management officials in Fort Bend County held a press conference Wednesday in Richmond to warn people that with up to eight inches of rain forecast in the next few days that flooding could become more widespread and dangerous.
“The water is going into places that we’ve not seen before,” said Jeff Braun, Fort Bend County’s emergency management coordinator. “It’s a new experience for a lot of us, including National Weather Service, who’s doing the forecasts we’re using.
“The river is still not officially crested … we’re looking for a little bit lower than 55 feet. That has resulted in upward of 300 water rescues and evacuations throughout our county, mostly on the northwest side on down to the Richmond-Rosenberg area. Now we’re waiting for the crest of water to move forward, downstream into Missouri City area and finally down toward Brazos Bend State Park and out toward our neighbors in Brazoria County,” he said.
Braun and Mgr. Chad Norwell of the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office said that more than 300 water rescues had been performed and 75 roads and highways closed due to flooding in the county. The floods are reminisce of last year when swollen rivers and heavy rains soaked much of the region over the Memorial Day weekend. This year the flooding is largely due to rains in the north that caused the Brazos to spill its banks.
“Everything that happens on the Brazos River happens far upstream,” Braun said.
He said the National Weather Service is calling for significant rainfall locally through the weekend.
“A significant rainfall could be anywhere in the neighborhood of three to eight inches over Thursday, Friday going into Saturday,” he said. “The water does not have any place to go when we get rain. We hope we don’t get the three to eight inches of rain but what’s more is we hope we don’t get the isolated 10 inches of rain. That rain will cause flash-flooding type of situations and ultimately cause the water to stand longer in our county.”
Braun said that the flood this year is worse than last year’s and breaks all records for the county.
“This is an unprecedented flooding event in Fort Bend County,” he said.” The flooding is four-foot higher than the last flood that was similar in 1994 that was our record flood at that time.”
Braun said the Brazos River normally trains away rainwater from the area but it can’t do that now that it has overflowed its banks.
“When the river crests it does not mean the water is going to drain away. The water is going to stay up. We’re looking at a situation where our citizens will be at least inconvenienced for many days, maybe a week, maybe longer if we get the rain they’re calling for,” he said.
Braun implied that the reason the county has had to perform so many water rescues is because people have been ignoring evacuation warnings and notices.
“These are from individuals who had been given evacuation notices – in some cases mandatory evacuation notices like in Simonton – most people heeded it but some people didn’t,” he said.
Braun said that after several days pass without the water subsiding that those who stayed behind change their minds and decide they want to leave.
“Fortunately everything has gone fine,” he said. “There have been no reports of injuries or loss of life and we feel fortunate about that.”
Braun said people need to take the situation seriously.
“Based on what we’ve seen in 300-plus water rescues, we want our citizens to take this situation seriously. It’s not only your house that might get water in it, it’s not only that your streets might become inaccessible; your whole neighborhood might become inaccessible. We have neighborhoods where their property in fine, but for a week or so, maybe longer, they’re not going to be able to get in or out of there in a convenient manner,” he said.
Mgr. Norwell said one of the biggest challenges for law enforcement right now is keeping people out of the flooded communities.
“The challenge we’re having now out of these neighborhoods is residents wanting to get back in,” he said. “We understand that it’s a difficult, stressful time, your house is under water or has water in it but now is not the time for repair and recovery, we need to try and get through this. … Many of these neighborhoods are not safe to drive in. It’s not safe to drive in many areas of Simonton due to moving water.”
He added, “The only way we can protect things effectively is to keep everybody out.”
Braun said he is concerned about the impending rain and the flow of the river downstream.
“We’re worried about where the water hasn’t flowed yet to the southeast toward the Missouri City area, Thompsons area, we’re looking at going down into some of the unincorporated areas of Fort Bend County down to Brazos Bend State Park all the way to our southern boundary,” he said.
He said his office has been coordinating efforts with numerous agencies at state and local levels to prepare for the flood. A big concern right now is the schools that are in the last days of the year. Some schools are closed and many buses are being rerouted.
“We are working with all of our school districts. It’s a difficult time for the school districts because they’re right at exam time,” he said.
The main thing the men stressed was that people be prepared for the long haul and to obey authorities and evacuation notices.
“We want our citizens to prepare, we want our citizens to have a plan, we want them to stay informed … by going to our website, www.fbcoem.org, which is one-stop shopping for flood information, information about flood disaster recovery, information about flood plain maps, information that will allow citizens to make a decision about what action they need to take to protect themselves and their family,” he said.