The Great Flood of 2001Written by Bob Janusaitis, CISA, CBCP Wednesday, 21 November 2007 00:39
It was June 4, 2001 and a tropical disturbance crossed the Yucatan Peninsula into the Gulf of Mexico. Few people even knew it existed. On June 5th, within 24 hours the National Weather Service began issuing weather warnings for severe weather with rains of up to 3 inches. By that afternoon Tropical Storm Allison formed and was expected to make landfall on Galveston Island.
Harris County activated its OEM personnel and County Sheriff’s Deputies. Tropical Storm Allison moved across Galveston Bay into the Southwestern Portion of Harris County at approximately 7:00 p.m. TS Allison remained nearly stationary dropping approximately 12 inches of rain in a two-hour period before moving westward and then north. Allison crossed through downtown east of Houston dropping an additional 8 to 10 inches of rain.
By this time, I was at home watching the drama unfold on the local TV stations. Virtually all reports showed that all areas of town faced the same dilemma. I was one of the lucky ones; my area of town only received about 11 inches. It was now early Saturday morning. Northern, central and the entire eastern portion of County fully enveloped by storm. With the flooding of the basement, and subsequent loss of electrical power in the Sheriff’s Office, the Harris County Dispatch Division and 911 system relocated to the Transtar Facility, and resumed operations. Rain diminished mid-morning. Numerous houses flooded. Reports of many automobiles and trucks were lost to flooding or were damaged. Many major roadways, access roads, secondary roads and thoroughfares were impassable.
Rescues were now taking place across the county. (See Figure 1) The Coast Guard rescued (aerial and by boat) 285 persons and secured two motor vessels. Thirty-six barges lost their mooring and were adrift. National Guard rescued (aerial and by high water vehicles) between 1,500 and 2,000 persons. Harris County Fire Marshall’s coordination, (staffing and equipment utilization unknown) with the rural fire departments in the unincorporated portions of Harris County, resulted in the rescue of at least 3,500 residents. Harris County Sheriff’s Marine Division with six boats performed the rescue of 1,034 persons. Harris County Air Search and Recovery Unit accomplished 84 aerial extractions of people.
By this point the level of devastation was becoming clearer. Television coverage showed tractor-trailers and cars being tossed about like toys. Then there was the realization that the contents of these vehicles may have had hazardous materials. The first reported fatality was a woman who took an elevator down to the parking garage to move her car and lost her life when the flood waters inundated the elevator.
During this entire time, Memorial Hermann Hospital, one of two level-one trauma centers in the city, was experiencing its own disaster. It had lost commercial power, and the switch gear to transfer power from the diesel generators was now under water. The entire hospital was without power. The disaster recovery plan called for evacuating the hospital. In this case there were 540 patients. In an incredible act of dedication, the employees of Hermann Hospital began the task of carrying patients down the stairwells to ambulances, and helicopters. People who could not breath on their own, were bagged reportedly for hours, and CPR performed on others as they were carried to ground level. The flood impacted several hospitals in the Texas Medical Center. Within several days three Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DEMATS) arrived to provide ambulatory health care. One Air Force and one Army twenty-five bed emergency room field hospitals became operational. In one case, a bone marrow recipient was awaiting the arrival of donor marrow. The operation had to be performed within 24 hours after the donation. The marrow arrived at Bush Intercontinental Airport, but it could not be transported to the medical center, because all helicopters were being used for evacuation. MD Anderson hospital called upon a local news station to assist. The News chopper was given “Life Flight” status and was able to get the donation to the medical center one hour before the deadline.
At this point, the Harris County Jail was without power, which meant no ventilation or water. The decision was made to evacuate the jail and relocate the prisoners to alternate secured facilities in the area. Over 3,000 prisoners were evacuated without incident.
The American Red Cross was overwhelmed with the number of people requiring shelter. Local churches established temporary shelters to assist the homeless. In one case, a church in Northeast Houston, had thousands of people in its sanctuary. The outpouring of donations required them to ask that no more be provided because there was no place to store the items.
Harris County Sheriff’s Office Deputies were then called to intervene in an incident at the Salvation Army Distribution Center. Approximately 500 civilians attempted to break into the Distribution Center before it opened.
Where you have standing water you have mosquitoes. It was estimated that over 100 million mosquitoes would hatch and be a public health hazard within days. Upon request, the City of Houston contacted the Mosquito Control District and made arrangements to spray for mosquitoes in several tunnels and underground parking garages, as well as many other areas around the city.
The response to the disaster by residents and corporations was outstanding. Almost 45,000 homes were damaged, and that meant that most all needed to have sheet rock and insulation removed to prevent the growth of toxic mold. Residents, churches, and major corporations allowed their employees to take off time to help their neighbors clean up. The mayor of Houston asked churches and individuals to adopt families that were impacted in the flood.
When the storm was over, the National Weather Service indicated that the amount of rain deposited by tropical storm Allision was sufficient to provide every man, woman and child in the United States water for an entire year! Figure 4 includes a diagram from the Harris County Flood Control District indicating rainfall accumulations for a five day period during the flood event. In one instance over 38 inches of rain fell within five days.
The losses are still being calculated, but some are beyond calculation. The University of Texas Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine, and several other research facilities lost in excess of 35,000 laboratory animals. The impact on medical research for cancer, AIDS, and other diseases will be felt for years to come.
It has been estimated that the residential losses we experienced were equivalent to five times what we would normally expect during a hurricane.
Bob Janusaitis, CISA, CBCP, is founder and president of Business911 International, Inc. located in Houston, TX. He has been active in the disaster recovery industry for over 15 years, and is the current president of the South Texas ACP chapter. He may be reached at email@example.com:38:50