Houston flood evacuees return home to measure the destruction
HOUSTON (AP) – Kathy Vossler’s ceiling was on the floor as she surveyed flood damage in her home on Monday. Insulation from the second floor draped into the first, and her double-door refrigerator sprawled on its side in the middle of the kitchen floor.
”It’s amazing what the power of water can do,” Vossler said, holding back tears as she sat on the back of a pickup, waiting for insurance adjusters. ”You walk in and the ceiling insulation hits you in the face and it smells like bad fish.”
Some 20,000 families in the Houston area faced the same heartache after the deluge from the remnants of Tropical Storm Allison, which swamped parts of the city with nearly 3 feet of rain in less than a week.
”That’s the wake line from when boats went by,” said Vossler’s sister, Sharon Johnson, pointing at a high-water line halfway up a wall on the second floor of the house.
The storm was blamed for 20 deaths in Texas and Louisiana, and thousands of people were forced to flee their flooded homes in the two states.
Rain had stopped falling Monday in Texas and Louisiana, but thunderstorms left over from Allison caused flooding and some damage elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. An apparent tornado struck Lucedale, Miss., injuring at least seven people, and another possible tornado damaged roofs in southern Alabama.
The Lucedale storm woke Charles Mack, 57, and his wife. ”My eyes popped open and when they did, the roof started blowing off,” Mack said.
Mack and his wife managed to escape before part of a wall fell into their upstairs bedroom. The roof, after being ripped from the house, landed on top of their two cars.
”I’m kind of in a daze,” Macy Mack said. ”You see things in the movies and you think it’s not real. But it is real.”
The bulk of Houston’s residential damage was on the city’s east side where water rose out of two bayous. Much of the rest of the nation’s fourth-largest city appeared to be back near normal on what Mayor Lee Brown declared a ”day of recovery.” Freeways were open again after being blocked part of the weekend by deep water and scores of partly submerged cars and trucks. Crews worked to restore power downtown.
”It’s a dirty mess,” said Jordy Tollett, Brown’s chief of staff, as dozens of crews pumped millions of gallons of water and mud from office building basements and underground garages.
At least five city hospitals were closed by power and flood problems. At Memorial Hermann Hospital, all 540 patients were evacuated and services halted for the first time since the facility opened in 1925. It is expected to be closed for a week.
Brown and Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt estimated damage would top $1 billion.
”This will be one of the most significant storms to hit Texas in many, many decades,” said Jerry Johns, president of the Southwestern Insurance Information Service. ”From our perspective, it’s going to be an insurance nightmare.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared a state disaster in 28 counties and President Bush followed with a federal declaration. Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster declared emergencies in 25 of his state’s 64 parishes, and Bush added 10 parishes to the federal list.
Louisiana officials said the storm left approximately 3,500 homes muddy and water-logged. Damages were ”$15 million and counting,” said Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La.
Some residents said it was the worst damage since Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992.
”That hurricane did not do what this little storm did,” said Jane Falgoust, 30, a teacher in Thibodaux, about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans. ”It’s unbelievable the damage this storm did.”
Falgoust’s parents, who don’t have flood insurance, were cleaning up after a foot of water flowed into their home.
”The carpet is drenched, the furniture’s totally destroyed, the paneling on the walls is buckling and bubbling and the doors won’t shut,” Falgoust said. ”You can see the water line on all the walls around the house.”
Ships were prohibited from unloading early Monday at the nation’s only supertanker oil port because of high winds and seas. The Louisiana Oil Offshore Port ordinarily takes about 1 million barrels of oil a day. The port was reopening in late afternoon.
The state health department closed almost all oyster beds along the Louisiana coast because of the threat of bacterial contamination from floodwater runoff.
Water rose to roof-level in some Houston neighborhoods.
”My house is somewhere under there,” Lee Carter said as he pointed toward a canoe floating past a few visible rooftops.
”The water just got deeper and deeper and deeper,” Carter said Sunday. ”You don’t realize the water can come that fast. It was coming up so fast that within 30 minutes it covered three stories.”
”Everything that is gone is gone,” said Carter, who lost his home and all of its contents, plus three cars. ”There ain’t nothing you can do about it. You just have to thank God that no one was hurt or injured and we made it out safely.”
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It’s time to secure outdoor loose furniture, decorations and garbage cans because high winds are aimed at Lake Tahoe for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.