Val Aldred stands in his home, which was damaged by flooding caused by the release of water from the dams at Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.

Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH News

Houston Copes With Hurricane Harvey Aftermath

September 11, 2017

JOE MATHIEU: You're listening to WGBH is Morning Edition. I'm Joe Mathieu. One of the things to come from the two hurricanes we've experienced recently — Harvey two weeks ago, and now Irma — has been closer ties between WGBH News and our public radio colleagues in East Texas and South Florida. Yesterday, 89.7 carried the reporting of WLRN in Miami. We live streamed their coverage all afternoon. And joining us now from Houston, WGBH News environmental reporter Craig LeMoult has been reporting from the newsroom of Houston Public Media for the last week or so. Craig, good morning. What are you up to in Houston?

CRAIG LEMOULT: Morning. Well, after Harvey WGBH asked Houston Public Media if they needed any help, and they said yeah, they could actually use an extra person. So ‘GBH sent me, and I’ve kind of been embedded in their newsroom. There's just — there's a lot of stories to cover in the wake of the storm and I'm just basically helping report on some of them.

MATHIEU: Well we're glad you're there. Why don't you start by telling us what it's like there?

LEMOULT: It's kind of like a tale of two cities in a way. You know, of course they got here after the storm; I've been here since Tuesday. And in most of the city, as you drive around, you’d never know there was a disaster. But then the other neighborhoods just got clobbered. I was in one flooded house and just a few doors down, everything was completely normal. One example I saw that sort of weird dichotomy was yesterday, I was at the NRG Center where there's a shelter, and there's 1,900 evacuees living there. And across the parking lot is the stadium for the Houston Texans. So just outside the shelter door, are there people tailgating for the football game.

MATHIEU: Wow. We hear a lot about the shelters, Craig. What are they like?

LEMOULT: Well I also who went to one at the convention center downtown, where I met Anthony Jones there. He is not new to evacuating floods. He says he used to live in New Orleans and had to evacuate during Katrina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANTHONY JONES)

ANTHONY JONES: It's not bad living at the George R. Brown shelter. It's not bad at all, to be honest, you know. Compared to the Superdome…during Katrina, the Superdome was bad. A lot of fighting, a lot of women getting raped and all kinds of stuff in the Superdome.

LEMOULT: There are currently about 1,200 people living in that Red Cross shelter, down from about 10,000 at its peak. But they're trying to get people out of there into more permanent housing, so they're not taking new people there. As I mentioned, I also went to the NRG Center and that place is huge. There are about 1,900 people there, as I said. The spokesperson for the group that's running the shelter for the county, Frida Villalobos, says their numbers are growing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRIDA VILLALOBOS)

FRIDA VILLALOBOS: We're not just serving Houston, we're serving the surrounding areas of Houston, like other counties. So as those smaller shelters close, we see people come here.

  • A shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center, run by the American Red Cross.
    Caption
    Photo Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH News
  • Anthony Jones, a Hurricane Harvey survivor, is staying in the shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center. He was also in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and evacuated to the Superdome. He says this shelter is much better.
    Caption
    Photo Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH News
  • Water was released from the Addicks Reservoir dam in Houston after it began to overflow, causing flood damage to homes.
    Caption
    Photo Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH News
  • A small boat navigates floodwaters in the Memorial area of Houston. The flooding was caused by the release of water from the dams at Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.
    Caption
    Photo Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH News
  • Piles of debris fill the yards of homes in the Memorial area of Houston, which was flooded due to the release of water from the dams at Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.
    Caption
    Photo Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH News
  • Homes in the Memorial area of Houston were flooded due to the release of water from the dams at Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.
    Caption
    Photo Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH News
  • The Aldred family home was one of those flooded after water was released from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs in Houston.
    Caption
    Photo Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH News
  • Val Aldred stands in his home, which was damaged by flooding caused by the release of water from the dams at Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.
    Caption
    Photo Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH News
  • Richard Long, a natural resource manager with the Army Corps of Engineers, overlooks the flooded Highway 6, which runs through the Addicks Reservoir.
    Caption
    Photo Credit: Craig LeMoult/WGBH News

MATHIEU: Craig, can you tell us about some of the flood victims you've spoken with?

LEMOULT: Yeah, I met the Aldred family. Their front yard is like many people’s, full with a big pile of drywall and building materials that they've been ripping out of their flooded home. Val Aldred says when the rain stopped, the water actually hadn't reached their home, and they thought they’d dodged a bullet.

(SOUNDBITE OF VAL ALDRED)

VAL ALDRED: But then, a couple hours later, it was getting a little higher and I went, "Something’s going on here, and I don't know, I have no idea what it was." About 3:00 in the afternoon it was starting to get pretty high to where my wife and my daughter were saying, you know, "We probably ought to get out of here."

LEMOULT: What had happened is that the city's reservoirs had filled up and the Army Corps of Engineers had to release water from them, and that's what flooded the Aldreds’ home and a lot of other homes as well. And now the Aldred are plaintiffs in one of several class action lawsuits against the Army Corps. They're not saying the Army Corps necessarily did anything wrong, but that it amounts to the taking of their home by eminent domain for public good, so they feel they should be compensated. I actually got a tour of those reservoirs and the dams from Richard Long with the Army Corps of Engineers, who said if they hadn't done a controlled release of that water, it would have spilled out on its own and the damage would have been much worse.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD LONG) 

RICHARD LONG: The Corps of Engineers realized a few years back that we are no longer in the flood control business. We're in the flood risk management business, meaning that we can actually help reduce the impacts of floods, but we cannot stop a flood. Here — you know, I have friends upstream and downstream that have water in their houses, and so it's difficult.

LEMOULT: So it's now become a legal issue, but I think as you might have been able to hear there, this is emotional for everybody.

MATHIEU: I’m sure it's a very emotional time that you're experiencing firsthand, Craig. We thank you for being with us. Craig LeMoult, WGBH News environmental reporter, who will continue his work in Houston and we'll stay in touch with us on WGBH’s Morning Edition as he helps his colleagues, our colleagues, at Houston Public Media. Craig, thank you for being with us this morning.

LEMOULT: Thank you, Joe.

MATHIEU: You're listening to WGBH’s Morning Edition.


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