After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, the National Weather Service said that more than 64 inches of rain had fallen, which is the most rainfall ever recorded in the continental U.S.
In total, Hurricane Harvey dropped 33 trillion gallons of water. According to Matthew Cappucci, who spoke with NPR, this much water could fill the Empire State Building, a 100 story structure, more than 33,000 times. The 9 trillion gallons that fell on the Houston area alone could fill fourteen million Olympic-size swimming pools.
All of this rain had to go somewhere, and the water had an incredibly damaging effect on Houston and its residential areas. While the entire city saw the damage, there were two Houston neighborhoods, Fleetwood and Brierhills that saw their worst flooding after the rain because of their proximity to the Addicks and Barker Reservoir.
The reason for this post-hurricane flooding is because the Army Corps of Engineers has to release water from the reservoirs when they feared that the dam would collapse. The release of water further flooded the neighborhoods downstream from the damns when it overflowed the drainage area of Buffalo Bayou.
Of course, there were a lot of other neighborhoods that saw flooding during the storm. The explanations for this are many, but one of the main reasons is because the city is flat and so the water sits instead of draining away like in urbanized areas with a more diverse city landscape. This is similar to the cause of flooding and damage from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; the water had nowhere to go except staying in the city.
Another factor in the damage is weak building regulations by city planners and huge growth in the suburbs and previously undeveloped land. According to a report by CNN, the suburbs of Houston saw 360,000 new buildings from 2000 to 2015. All of this growth means that instead of the marshy grassland that used to make up Houston, there are a lot of newly paved parking
lots, driveways, and roads covering land that, before being developed, helped absorb rainwater.
It’s no surprise then that the Houston neighborhoods that saw the most damage were in these newer suburbs. According to estimates by FEMA, the ten most damaged neighborhoods range from fewer than 2,000 homes damaged in Klein East, all the way up to more than 5,600 homes in Cypress North.
All of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey to homes and businesses will cost an estimated $180 billion, making it almost three times more costly than Hurricane Katrina. $30 billion of that is tied to homeowners and because of weak projections by city planners and insurance providers, only twenty percent of homeowners had flood insurance.
So where does all of the recovery money come from? “Unfortunately, homeowners insurance only covers up to $100,000 or $250,000 in damages, and for those without flood insurance, they
ultimately have to use their resources to pay for costs.” stated Houston Attorney Tommy Hastings. To help, the government has earmarked a certain amount of funding for them with grants and low-interest loans, and FEMA will provide temporary financial relief. But in the end, the burden will fall on the residents.