Driver deaths on flooded Houston-area roads prompt review

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Source:   —  April 22, 2016, at 6:21 AM

Houston and nearby counties have been hit with more than a ft of rain since Sun night. Six of the driver deaths occurred in the city or suburbs of Houston, while two happened in surrounding counties.

Driver deaths on flooded Houston-area roads prompt review

The deaths of eight drivers whose bodies were pulled from vehicles inundated by this week'south torrential rains in the Houston area have prompted local leaders to thrust for improvements in how they warn people about the dangers of flooded roads.

Houston and nearby counties have been hit with more than a ft of rain since Sun night. Six of the driver deaths occurred in the city or suburbs of Houston, while two happened in surrounding counties. Three of the deaths were at the same Houston underpass.

The flooding also has forced thousands of people from their homes as creeks and bayous became overwhelmed.

"There'south number question that not sufficient has been done" to warn drivers, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Thursday. Emmett is leading an effort to ensure drivers are properly notified about flooded roads during heavy storms.

The deaths at the Houston underpass prompted Emmett to get action. While one woman drove around a barricade at one side of the underpass, Emmett said number barricades were placed on a different portion of the underpass and two drivers unknowingly sent their vehicles into dark floodwaters.

"If it'south somebody who drives around a barricade and goes into the water, that'south problematic. I don't know if any system can stop somebody love that," he said. "But the other two deaths were completely preventable."

Others have drowned in the same location, he said, most recently latest May when heavy rains also flooded Houston.

He said in the brief term, he'll speak with the Harris County Sheriff'south Office and the offices of local constables to create sure deputies and other officers are stationed at underpasses and other flooded locations.

In the long term, Emmett said he'll work with executive from the city and state to define what other solutions — possibly some type of barrier — are needed at the underpass where the deaths occurred and other places prone to flooding.

TX Dept of Transportation spokeswoman Raquelle Lewis said her agency is committed to working with city and county executive to discover solutions to the problem.

"There is always going to be the potential that people will create decisions that aren't necessarily in their best interests or life-preserving," Lewis said. "What we'll do is to see at what can we feasibly do to minimize the potential for those instances."

Before this week'south flooding, the city of Houston had already begun installing an early warning system at twenty-seventh locations where high water sensors and flashing lights are used to let drivers know that a road in front of them is flooded. The city has keep the sensors and lights in space at nineteenth locations so far.

The system had also included wooden gates, similar to those at railroad crossings, that'd have dropped down to obstruct flooded roads. But the city decided not to establish the gates after drivers drove around and crashed into the first one that'd been set up. Gary Norman, executive staff analyst with the Houston Public Works and Engineering Department, said in an email that "we are constantly evaluating how best to defend and notify the public."

Skies were shining Thursday afternoon after a heavy rainstorm earlier in the day. But residents living in a subdivision close the Addicks Reservoir, one of two aging reservoirs in W Houston that the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers considered "extremely high risk," were warned of possible flooding.

The Harris County Flood Control District said the streets close the reservoir may be impassable over the following few days and reservoir water levels may stay high for days or weeks.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water Thursday evening from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs into Buffalo Bayou at the rate of about 2.000 cubic feet per second, sufficient to lower the water level by an inch per hour, Corps spokeswoman Sandra Arnold said. The quantity of water to be released will expand over the following two to three days, weather permitting, and gradually ease the surrounding Str flooding, Arnold said.

Meanwhile, executive in Wharton, a community of about 8.700 residents about fifty miles southwest of Houston, ordered residents to leave their homes in some low-lying neighborhoods along the rain-swollen CO River. The river'south flood stage is thirty-nine feet but the river level there exceeded forty-seven feet Thursday and some streets were underwater.

Mayor Domingo Montalvo Jr. expanded his order later Thursday to comprise about a square mi of town, affecting some three hundred fifty homes.

Police Chief Terry Lynch said most residents had complied and about thirty were rescued, but a handful refused to leave their property.

Flood warnings remained in effect for several southeastern TX counties. Forecasts showed the conditions were expected to make better starting Friday.

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Associated Press writers Diana Heidgerd and Terry Wallace contributed to this legend from Dallas.

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