Jeez, has it really been five years since Tropical Storm Allison flooded the hell out of Houston? Tiffany and I were actually out of town the weekend that it happened - the worst flooding occured overnight on a Friday. We were in Chicago to attend her sister's graduation from business school. On Saturday morning, my cell phone rang, and the phone number on the caller ID was our home number. It was our friend Andrea calling (she had a key to our house). "The good news is your house was not affected by the floods," was how she greeted me. Floods? What floods? I hadn't seen the TV or a newspaper since yesterday morning, and we didn't have a laptop at the time. She told me about it, and asked to borrow Tiffany's car - hers was a casualty of the water.
The only way to describe how devastating TS Allison was is to show you pictures, which my buddy Dan Wallach has. Here's US59 in Montrose. That's about 20 feet of water you're seeing. Here's I-10 at Shepherd, which is about two miles from our house. And here's I-45 at North Main (and another view), also about two miles from our house, northeast of I-10 and Shepherd.
Twenty-two people were killed. There were $5 billion in damages. Richard Connelly of the Houston Press, who lived in Timbergrove Manor not far from the Heights, wrote about his family's experience getting flooded out and later about other residents' experiences dealing with FEMA as they bought out many homes in flood-prone areas. If you're feeling a little emotional today, you might want to avoid those two.
Are we in any better shape today? The Chron story offers a lot of evidence that we are in many ways, but also says this:
The city has spent $4 million on city facilities downtown to reduce flood dangers that became evident during Allison, said Dawn Ullrich, director of the Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department. Flood walls and doors were built at the entrances to underground parking garages, including the Wortham Center and City Hall Annex garages.
Those garages became canals during Allison, allowing water to flow freely into the pedestrian tunnel system. Now, watertight gates, called submarine doors, at tunnel entrances can be closed if there's a possibility of flooding.
"Each technique was crafted for the type of threat it might face and where the water might come from," Ullrich said.
But environmental lawyer Jim Blackburn said the city and county have not done enough, and Houston is no better off than it was before Allison.
Recently redrawn 100-year flood plain maps do not reflect increased rainfall statistics, Blackburn said.
"A lot more of this area is flood-prone than the maps show," he said. "If those maps are wrong, then you're basically not getting the right information, so how can you have a good plan?"