Tuesday, July 22, 2014

25 Years Ago This Week: Hurricane Chantal (Landfall 8/1/89)

Deja vu disguised as Hurricane Chantal enveloped the South Belt area as visions of 10 years ago gripped residents battling torrential rains and rising flood waters when the "good" side of the storm moved through the area.

Despite rampant high water, downed power lines and fierce winds, the South Belt area did not experience any loss of life. Three women, however, did have to be rescued after the driver, unfamiliar with the area drove into a drainage ditch at Beamer and Hall. (See related story on Page 1A.)

Official records from the Harris County Flood Control district show the South Belt area received 6.5 inches of rain in a 24-hour period ending at 10 p.m. Tuesday, August 1. Spokeswoman Billie Wolff said the majority of the rain fell in a six-hour period Tuesday morning and afternoon. Computer recorded time is somewhat deceptive since the rain did not start until early Tuesday morning. 

Although the South Belt-Ellington Leader received numerous reports on the Beamer ditch, and other flood district ditches, overflowing the banks, officially the water stayed within the banks.

A sensor at the bridge at Hughes and Beamer did not indicate the water reached an overflow level. "It is quite possible in some areas the water did spill over onto the easement but we don't believe it contributed to the street flooding," said Wolff.

With the storm forming right off the Texas coast, at least we did not have to face three or four days of constant rain," said Wolff.

At one time during Tuesday afternoon Wolff reported a cell containing approximately 10 inches of rain was located in the area. If the cell had developed and released the rain, Wolff said severe flooding would have occurred. 

Reported Flooding
Reports of neighborhoods experiencing flooding were widespread. Southbend residents watches as the waters rose to the tops of the fireplugs. Conservative estimates placed the water at two feet deep.

Residents living in Kirkmont II experiences water in their homes as well as people living in most low lying areas. 

All the major thoroughfares flooded forcing many residents to adnabon their cars and attempt to walk home. When the flood waters receded hundreds of cars stood stranded in the streets, on the medians, on the side of the road and on numerous parking lots. 

Wind Damage

High winds in excess of 50 mph lashed the area timbling a number of fences, smashing residential and commercial windows, ripping shingles off homes and causing a number of areas to lose electrical power. 

Winds were strong enough to snap a telephone pole in two on the northbound side of Beamer at Memorial Southeast Hospital. A portion of the roof of the Beamer Road Medical Building peeled back hen caught by high gusts of winds. Emergency teams from the Houston Fire Department Station 70 and Southeast Volunteer Fire Department responded. 

Dobie High Schools FFA barn received extensive damage by a possible tonado. According to Sherry Berkley, an FFA booster member, the high winds lifted the lumber and the tin rood roof and carried it to the parking lot. One of the show animals was injured. 

Berkley said the FFA had no funds to rebuild the structure and the animals did not have good protection. Many of the students were expecting to participate in the September show. 

The FFA students would appreciate any help South Belt residents could contribute. 

 Lena Perry of Sagemont was a flood victim twice in 1979. Due to Claudette, Perry had 2 1/2 feet of water in her house for three days. As she was in the process of putting her house back together in September, the water came rushing in again, flooding her home.

Perry said that she was not flooded during Hurricane Alicia, but she came close during Tropical Storm Allison.

"I was getting pretty concerned about it. Had it continued to rain, we possibly could have gotten it in the house," said Perry. 

Flood control efforts in the area were a concern of Perry's. "They've done a lot of good work. I felt real good about it for a long time until recently," said Perry. 

Sagemont resident Linda Burton was also a victim of the floods of 1979. Burton comments on flood control in South Belt by saying, "I do think they did a great job." However, she also said, "it seems to me there still needs to be a lot of work done."

Burton was not flooded during Allison, but the abundance of rain frightened her enough to start elevating valuables in her home. "We were ready," she said.

"I don't think anybody from Houston will ever be flood-free." said Burton. But she went on to say that South Belt residents should not always flood every time it rains, that the area should be able to handle a medium sized flood. 

Concerned and Involved

Burton and her neighbor and friend Joyce Baker were among a handful of residents who worked instrumentally with the South Belt-Ellington Leader after the floods in 1979 to obtain flood control in the South Belt. 

Upkeep of the area, as far as flood control efforts, is a major concern of Burton's. She believes that the ditches should be kept clean and mowed. 

According to Billie Wolff of Harris County Flood Control most all of the ditches and canals in the South Belt area, including Beamer ditch, have been under maintenance from May 2 to July 21. Wolff said that maintenance includes includes mowing, herbiciding, desilting, grading, and cement repairs. 

Perry is one resident that is deeply concerned about dumping in city storm sewers in the South Belt. Perry simply cannot understand how her neighbors, also flood victims in 1979, can tamper with something so crucial to the area. 

"People throw everything in there," said Perry She believes that dumping grass and oil, among other things, into the sewers expedites flooding. 

During the afternoon of June 29, 1989, as water levels were rising, the South Belt-Ellington Leader received a call from a resident hwo desperately wanted her storm sewer cleaned. The resident was obviously concerned about the effects of a clogged swere combined with flooding. However, a flood is not the time to make such a request. 

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