June 19, 2006

More storms expected in flooded Houston

By Matt Daily

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Torrential rains sparked flash floods
across Houston on Monday that engulfed homes and snarled
traffic, and weather forecasters warned new storms overnight
could bring even worse flooding.

Floodwaters that covered highways and swamped cars across
sections of south and east Houston had receded by Monday
afternoon, giving rescue teams a respite. But the storm system
that deluged the city with up to 11 inches of rain in some
areas appeared likely to return.

"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 and continue until midday Tuesday,
dumping as much as another 5-10 inches onto the already
water-logged ground.

That would likely cause the already swollen bayous that
crisscross Houston to overflow their banks.

The Houston Fire Department rescued more than 500 people
from flood waters with no serious injuries or fatalities
reported. "Most of them were rescues of civilians from their
vehicles after they drove into flooded areas," said Assistant
Chief Omero Longoria.

The worst of the flooding hit South Houston, which declared
a state of emergency and set up four shelters to accommodate
residents driven from their homes.

Television news showed footage of several people on the
roof of a building that had flooded with water levels topping
out at about three feet on some streets.

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

"If the situation does take a turn for the worse, we have
the assets ready to be deployed," said Gloria Roemer,
spokeswoman for the County Judge Robert Eckels, head of the
county's emergency management office.

Witnesses said state highway 225, the city's "refinery
row," was closed earlier in the day because of high water,
although disruptions to plants appeared to be minor.

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

(Additional reporting by Eileen O'Grady)