June 19, 2006

New rain expected in flooded Houston

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Floodwaters closed major highways in
Houston on Monday and forced residents from their homes as
waterways overflowed their banks, and forecasters said new
storms overnight could bring even worse flooding.

Although the flooding eased on Monday afternoon with a
pause in the heavy rains, the relief may only be temporary.

"If we do get the amount of rainfall that's expected, you
can and probably should expect major flooding," Rusty
Cornelius, administrative coordinator for Harris County
Emergency Management told Reuters.

The National Weather Service predicted thunderstorms could
return to the Houston area later on Monday and continue until
midday Tuesday, dumping another 5-10 inches onto the already
water-logged ground.

Up to 11 inches of rain have already fallen in parts of the
city, flooding southern and eastern neighborhoods and closing
several major highways, including a key artery running through
Houston's "refinery row."

By early afternoon, the immediate flood threats from
several of the bayous, or natural waterways, that crisscross
the city appeared to be waning as water levels dropped.

Earlier on Monday, several people were rescued from flooded
homes and cars, and the city of South Houston declared a state
of emergency.

Television news showed footage of several people on the
roof of a building that had flooded, although water levels that
had reached two to three feet on some streets in that area had
started to recede.

Four shelters had been opened to accommodate residents
driven from their homes, but no fatalities have been recorded
due to the flooding.

City officials were working to prepare emergency crews to
fan out across the city ahead of a potential deluge in the
coming hours.

"All we can do right now is preposition our high water
rescue teams," Cornelius said.

Witnesses said state highway 225 was closed earlier in the
day because of high water, although disruptions to refineries
along it appeared to be minor.

A refinery owned by French Total in nearby Port Arthur was
forced to trim operations because of flooding, the company

Local utility CenterPoint Energy Inc said 18,000 customers
lost power overnight as widespread lightning interfered with
power lines. About half those customers were restored by
mid-morning, spokeswoman Alicia Dixon said.

(Additional reporting by Eileen O'Grady)