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Houston mayor defends decision not to order an evacuation
As Tropical Storm Harvey continued to unleash torrential rains and cause catastrophic flooding in Houston, the city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, on Sunday forcefully defended the decision not to order an evacuation.
Mr. Turner, who decided with the Harris County judge, Ed Emmett, not to order an evacuation, said such an order would have been chaotic and put more people’s lives in danger.
“The best course of action for the City of Houston and Harris County were for people to stay in place,” Mr. Turner said at a news conference on Sunday night.
Tropical Storm Harvey, which came ashore on Friday and first pummeled areas south of Houston, rolled into Harris County over the weekend and dropped more than two feet of rain in parts of the county. Streets and highways became impassable and rising waters forced residents to flee to higher ground, including to their roofs, to wait to be rescued.
The mayor said it would have been impossible for local officials to draft a safe evacuation plan for the more than six million people in the county when it was unclear where the storm was headed. He said some who did leave Houston before Harvey arrived ran out of gasoline and spent upward of 12 hours in their cars traveling to Austin, which is a three-hour trip under normal conditions.
— MATTHEW HAAG in New York
A couple recount wading to a neighbor’s home with their baby.
Kelli Lilienstern, who lives in central Houston with her husband and their 8-month-old daughter, had “one of the scariest experiences” of her life, she said.
She woke at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday to find floodwaters approaching the door of their one-story home. About 30 minutes later, it was coming inside, first just enough to cover their feet, then rising to their knees.
She strapped their daughter, Penelope, into a carrier close to her chest and they headed out, wading through waist-deep water to the home of a neighbor, someone they had never met before.
“Don’t slip and fall,” she recalled thinking. “Don’t drop the baby.”
She saw large patches of fire ants floating on the surface, and worried about what else might be in the water: “All sorts of rodents,” snakes and even alligators have been spotted in the floodwaters, Ms. Lilienstern said.
The neighbor who took them in, whose home had not flooded, welcomed two other families as well, including one with a 6-month-old. On Sunday, water was lapping at the front steps — and more rain was expected.