The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday that leading up to and during Hurricane Harvey it “worked diligently” with officials to inform the public on flooding risks from Houston reservoirs that ended up inundating thousands of homes.
The Corps’ statement came in response to a Houston Chronicle report earlier this week that the agency failed to share with the public a forecast ahead of Harvey’s arrival predicting that Barker and Addicks reservoirs would flood adjacent neighborhoods.
The Corps’ forecast was made Aug. 24, the day before Harvey made landfall in South Texas.
Fort Bend County officials didn’t issue a flood advisory for areas adjacent to Barker until Aug. 26, the day Harvey – downgraded to a tropical storm by then – had made its way to Houston.
Authorities in Harris County, home to Houston, didn’t issue similar warnings until Aug. 27. By then neighborhoods were already inundated. Harvey ended up dumping nearly 50 inches (127 centimeters) of rain in some parts of the Houston area.
The Corps said a review of its records shows the agency released “critical flooding information” to local officials and the public multiple times each day as the storm made its way to Houston and during the several days it lingered in the area.
“Our review confirmed we held daily briefings, assigned trained liaison officers to provide flooding data to county and local officials and kept the public informed of flood risks,” said Edmond Russo with the Corps of Engineers Galveston district office.
The Corps said its review showed inundation mapping data was routinely provided to local governments for their use in formulating evacuation plans. The agency said it can’t issue evacuation orders.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Friday that to the best of his knowledge, he didn’t see the Corps’ Aug. 24 forecast and the possibility it might not have been released was concerning.
“If we are sitting on information or have information that will help people going forward on how to respond, on how to get prepared, on assisting us as leaders in making decisions on whether or not we tell people to shelter in place or whether to do something else, all that information should be made readily available,” Turner said.
The Aug. 24 forecast is one of many documents that have emerged through discovery in federal lawsuits in which thousands of homeowners are seeking compensation from the Corps, which operates the reservoirs. The Houston Chronicle obtained a copy of the forecast.
One group of homeowners alleges their neighborhoods downstream of the reservoirs were intentionally flooded when the Corps released water from the dams as they filled to capacity and were in danger of possibly failing. Other homeowners allege they were unaware their homes upstream of the reservoirs had been built in areas known as flood pools, where water collects as the dams fill up.
Houston-area officials were criticized in the days after Harvey for not acting quickly enough to alert people of flooding and issue evacuations.
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