In 2016, Harris County officials received a report that warned of eminent disaster — when the next big storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico, Houston would be swamped.
Leading scientists who study flooding — including one who lost his own home to Harvey — warned of the dangers Houston faces because of massive development and abandonment of the natural terrain.
As Houston grew, it consumed the land where floodwaters would naturally go. Now when there’s a flood, the water flows down into the neighborhoods, shops and restaurants that replaced the region’s wetlands.
At the time, the former head of the Harris County Flood Control District brushed off the findings as bogus, intended only to scare decision-makers away from developments that would replace more of the city’s diminishing natural surroundings with more cement, skyscrapers, and shopping centers.
In the aftermath of Harvey, scientists who warned of the coming destruction are scratching their heads.
If the city had listened, could the destruction have been prevented?
Houston was built over low-lying swamp land that backs up onto coastal bayous. Nicknamed the Bayou City, Houston has embraced its marshy waterways, even naming one of its most popular parks, Buffalo Bayou Park, after the bayou it surrounds.
Texas A&M University marine scientist Sam Brody is one of the experts who warned of the coming floods. Despite ringing alarm bells, Brody was still forced to evacuate his home as Harvey’s flood consumed it.
“It’s an emotional issue, because all of our warnings from our research projects have come to fruition,” Brody told Day 6 by CBC.
Harvey’s floodwaters robbed 39 people of their lives and destroyed over 44,000 homes. With 325,000 applications for FEMA assistance already in the approval process, Harvey’s toll is just starting to mount.
At this time, cost estimates put the destruction at $190 billion, making it potentially the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history.
As the city starts to rebuild, will they heed the warnings of the past?