23
Jul
08

Hello Dolly

Still just a Category 1 hurricane, Dolly nonetheless threatens to top the levees and devastate the rural, low-lying, poor areas around Brownsville, TX and in the Rio Grande Valley.  People forget that Katrina hit New Orleans at Category 3 force, and that it was levee failure much more so than Katrina’s organic strength that flooded and devastated the city – a city of above average concentrated poverty.  Dolly’s potential impact is similarly chilling:

(my emphases)

Cities and counties in the heavily populated Rio Grande Valley were preparing Tuesday night as officials feared heavy rains could cause massive flooding and levee breaks.

Texas officials urged residents to move away from the Rio Grande levees because if Dolly continues to follow the same path as 1967’s Hurricane Beulah, “the levees are not going to hold that much water,” said Cameron County Emergency Management Coordinator Johnny Cavazos. […]

The storm, combined with levees that have deteriorated in the 41 years since Beulah swept up the Rio Grande, pose a major flooding threat to low-lying counties along the border. Beulah spawned more than 100 tornadoes across Texas and dumped 36 inches of rain in some parts of south Texas, killing 58 people and causing more than $1 billion damage.”We could have a triple-decker problem here,” Cavazos told a meeting of more than 100 county and local officials Tuesday. “We believe that those (levees) will be breached if it continues on the same track. So please stay away from those levees.”

Around Brownsville, levees protect the historic downtown as well as preserved buildings that were formerly part of Fort Brown on the University of Texas at Brownsville campus. Outside the city, agricultural land dominates the banks of the Rio Grande, but thousands of people live in low-lying colonias, often poor subdivisions built without water and sewer utilities. […]

Levees upstream in Hidalgo County are in the midst of improvements, but the river could spill over sections in a 100-year flood, a flood so big that it has only a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

Much of the damage to New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina was from levee breaks instead of wind.

Now there’s an understatement if I’ve ever heard one.  My thoughts and prayers are with the residents of Brownsville and the Valley and northern Mexico, and I hope they’ll take heed and get up to the shelters opening up around the region. I also hope the local and federal governments have an evacuation and response plan in place stronger than this article suggests, as it currently consists of suggestions to evacuate versus anything mandatory and aggressively preventative.    Hopefully the storm will lose its strength and focus and disappear back out into the Gulf.

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