WGBH News continues to follow local efforts to help flood victims in Houston and WGBH's Morning Edition joined colleagues at KUHF-News 88.7, Houston's NPR station, throughout the morning to bring New England listeners real-time developments in that area. It can be difficult for Americans outside of the Houston area to get a grasp on how victims and rescue crews are enduring the catastrophic flooding. Cort McMurray, a contributor for The Houston Chronicle and frequent guest panelist on KUHF's weekday public affairs show, Houston Matters, took to Facebook to outline five things non-Houstonians need to understand about Harvey flooding.
He shared his thoughts with WGBH's Morning Edition anchor Joe Mathieu Wednesday. Below is a loosely edited transcription of their conversation.
Joe Mathieu: What condition is your home in?
Cort McMurray: We are extremely lucky. I'm sitting in my bedroom right now and aside from a few drops of water, we were dry throughout the duration of this. The flood waters got as high as the front door of our house but they never actually came into our house, which was a great blessing.
Mathieu: You took to Facebook to talk about a number of things that you have been hearing and things that you think non-Houstonians need to understand, because lot of things have been said with a few shades of New Orleans around Katrina time. People have been critical of the city's layout and its ability to handle floods. I should note this Facebook post has been shared nearly 30,000 times. What do you want us to know?
McMurray: Well there are a few things. First of all, I don't own a cowboy hat and I don't know anyone who does. Houston is a very different animal than most non-Texans think. We are the most diverse city in North America. And we are also a city that sits just 36 feet above the Gulf of Mexico. We are as flat as a pool table. And when it rains it floods — that's just the nature of the game here. We are used to it. In the 21 years we've lived in our house we've seen our street flood at least 15 times. The Bayou system — the drainage system that sends all the water back to the Gulf of — needs temporary retention. The streets form a temporary retention grid. And as rains abate, the water drains off, then everything is fine. We know that about living here. Normally, Houston gets 50 inches of rain a year. Some parts of Houston received 50 inches of rain this weekend. My neighborhood got a little over 30 inches of rain (nine months worth of rain) in 72 hours. No system would have been able to handle that. It was unprecedented and there was really no way to prepare for it.
Mathieu: Cort, as many people asked about New Orleans following Katrina, some are wondering why anyone would live there. Why live at sea level?
McMurray: Well, why does anyone live anywhere? There's work here, there are family ties here. Some people's roots go very deep in this place. And some people came here because it's the fourth biggest city in America and it's home to dozens of Fortune 500 companies and it's a chance to make money. And once you get here, it is one of the most accepting and tolerant cities I've ever been to. I don't know that I could imagine living anywhere else.
Mathieu: You've also pointed out the fact that many are wondering why the entire downtown area and city didn't evacuate.
McMurray: Well here's the thing. Houston is about as big as Rhode Island. The metropolitan area is about as big as the state of Connecticut. Six and a half million people live in metropolitan Houston. How do you move 6.5 million people? And that's another thing you have to understand, is that this flood did not happen in an isolated area — every single neighborhood has been affected. The mantra here for decades has been: "Hunker down and shelter in place. Be prepared." And that's what we did. In the evacuation efforts for Hurricane Rita, 121 people died. One of them died from drowning, 120 of them died in incidents related to the exodus. It was bedlam. It was the worst thing imaginable. It's been inconvenient and it's been difficult but as a matter of public safety, keeping people in their homes was the right thing to do.
Mathieu: Helping non-Houstonians understand as much as we can about Houston and about the Harvey flooding. We thank you, Cort McMurray.
Click the audio player above to listen to the entire conversation with WGBH's Morning Edition anchor Joe Mathieu and Cort McMurray of The Houston Chronicle.