Jim Bradshaw: Was Harvey like Allison? No comparison

I remember how incredulous I was in June 2001, when a mere tropical storm named Allison dumped more than 30 inches of rain on Houston, then moved to south Louisiana and kept pouring.

It was an uncommon event. The danger in south Louisiana from most tropical storms and hurricanes comes from the storm surge and wind that move through relatively quickly, not from tropical systems that just sit down on top of us and rain and rain and rain.

Allison and the storm that flooded southwest Louisiana in 1940 were the most notable exceptions, until Harvey.

Harvey is the storm that will make us forget Allison, 1940, and any other rain event of the recent or historic past.

Not only was Harvey a full-blown Category 4 hurricane with 130-mph winds and 12-foot surge when it knocked the life out of Rockport and Corpus Christi, it has been a storm that just will not go away.

The rainfall that drowned Houston and surrounding communities has been staggering. On Tuesday Harvey officially became the wettest tropical storm in U.S. history, and it was still raining at this writing on Wednesday.

As with Allison, Harvey drowned Houston once, went back to the Gulf to pick up more water, and headed inland again.

Unlike with Allison, rain gauges in coastal Texas don’t have numbers high enough to record all of the water falling on them.

Harvey and Allison each followed dawdling, erratic paths that brought them inland over the Texas coast, then looped back into the Gulf and onto an easterly track toward Louisiana.

Allison came ashore near Galveston on June 5, 2001, drenched Houston with (until then) unprecedented rainfall, and drifted north to near Lufkin.

When it got to Lufkin, it made a big loop back toward the south and, on June 10. went back into the Gulf at almost exactly the same spot that it first came ashore. Then it headed almost due east along the Louisiana coast, pushing up tides from Cameron to Pointe-a-la-Hache before coming ashore again near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

In Louisiana, Thibodaux was flooded by nearly 30 inches of rain and Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans also saw significant flooding.

Allison left 30,000 people homeless in the Houston area. It caused more than $5 billion in property damage. That sounded like big numbers until Harvey showed up. Harvey’s toll will be at least twice that.

We can’t say yet, because Harvey’s disastrous effects are still unfolding on an epic scale. The area it has flooded is more reminiscent of the Great Flood of 1927 than anything caused by a hurricane.

One Texas official said the land area under water in south Texas is equivalent in size to Lake Erie.

Another noted that the Houston metro area covers an area slightly bigger than New Jersey, practically all of which is flooded to one depth or another.

A weather analyst estimated that before its last drop is dropped, 25 trillion gallons of rain will fall on Texas and Louisiana. By comparison, Katrina dropped less than 7 trillion gallons.

All of that water has to drain into the Gulf, through channels that are no longer recognizable as streams or bayous or rivers, only as lakes — lakes filled so high that in many places, like the rainfall totals, they are off the gauges that measure their depth.

It will take weeks, if not months, for all that water to drain. When it does finally begin to recede, it will reveal incredible devastation to homes, businesses, schools, hospitals — entire communities.

Worse, each inch that the floodwaters drop will also reveal the remains of people trapped in attics or rubble or washed-away cars — a toll that will certainly grow into Harvey’s most terrible legacy.

A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at jimbrad-shaw4321@gmail.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.


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