By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Caledonia resident Tim Irwin recently completed a month-long deployment to Houston following hurricane Harvey. Working for a private security company called G4S, he was sent to guard a Red Cross shelter located in a vacant Shell Oil records storage building.

Irwin spoke to the Argus (from Houston) last week.

“G4S Security has several accounts down here,” he said. “With the big petroleum companies and the banking centers. We were sent here just in case there was civil unrest. But there was no civil unrest after Harvey, unlike hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Harvey has been a cake walk. Everybody has been wonderful down here.

Following hurricane Katrina in 2005, Irwin (as an off-duty police officer) was asked to supervise a Blackwater security contingent operating near Baton Rouge. That assignment lasted for 60 days.

Looting and unrest may not have been rampant in the aftermath of Harvey, but the City of Houston is still facing plenty of challenges, Irwin noted. Thirty inches of rainfall in two days has to have somewhere to go.

“The whole Houston area has sunk several feet in the last 100 years because of the amount of ground water that they’ve pumped out of the aquifer,” Irwin said. “And since it’s close to the coast, the storm drains connect to the bayous which connect to the gulf.

Authorities report that some portions of the greater Houston area subsided by two feet after early oil and gas extraction (first documented in the 1920’s). Since then, massive ground water pumping has lowered some spots as much as five times that amount. (see “Subsidence in the Greater Houston Area – Past, Present and Future,” by Ronald J. Neighbors).

“So now, since the city’s settled, any time you’ve got a high tide the salt water back-flows toward the city,” Irwin explained. “So when hurricane Harvey stalled over the city, all of the storm drains back-filled into the neighborhoods and downtown, and it was almost like what happened to Rushford (Minn.).

“Their containment dikes ended up working against them. It was a back-flooding event.

“In the downtown area, they’ve got this very scenic bayou. It’s a little like a Root River, that works it’s way through downtown and it’s got a really cute little trail on it. Like a municipal park. That all flooded. And the downtown skyscrapers all got flooded, as far as the basements and subterranean parking lots.

“They’re still flooded.”

Residential flooding was also widespread. “There’s a lot of houses that got two to three feet of water in them across a major swath of the metro area,” Irwin stated. “Lots and lots of home damage.

“We’ve had one bad thunderstorm since (Harvey). We got about three inches of rain, and the town became impassible. Almost every underpass has a floodwater depth gauge so motorists can tell how deep the water is after a thunderstorm.

The recovery also has a human face as far as homeless and displaced persons.

“They have a capacity problem with the number of homeless people that they have here, which is huge,” Irwin noted. “One large recovery center is at the NRG Stadium, which is huge. It’s next to the Astrodome.  They also set up a refugee center downtown at the convention center. But they still don’t have enough bed space, so Shell Oil is allowing them to use this abandoned records storage building in the southwest corner of the city. It has about 300 beds.

“This is a natural place for homeless folks to congregate. When the Red Cross leaves, the City of Houston will be faced with a problem.”

Even so, it could have been worse, Irwin added. The Texas National Guard was  pre-positioned and ready before the hurricane hit, city policing efforts were “aggressive” and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) had certain resources ready. “That’s really shown in the recovery effort,” he concluded.

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