Texans ponder whether lax regulation made Harvey's impact worse

Although the water is gone from many suburban neighbourhoods in Houston, tonnes of debris — and a lot of work — remains.

“We’re going to let it dry for a month, six weeks, maybe two months,” Tuan Nguyen said of his house on Saturday.

CTV News found Nguyen deconstructing his home in order to save it, tossing out soggy contents and ripping our mouldy walls.

“We are probably permanently at risk of flooding here until there are more meaningful efforts,” Nguyen added.

Nguyen’s house is one of nearly 200,000 homes in the city that have been ruined by floodwater.

A neighbour of Nguyen told CTV News that she had moved into the area precisely because it was supposed to be safe from such threats.

Some experts, however, are not as surprised.

Over the years, as Houston grew into the country’s fourth-largest city, millions of acres of cotton fields were replaced by sprawling subdivisions.

Soil and creeks have being covered in concrete, giving water nowhere to go.

Locals say building regulations are also relatively lax.

“This area, pretty much if you own the land, you can build what the hell you want to build,” local homeowner John Mintz told CTV News.

“The people in charge should have thought (before) they let people build out here,” he added.

Don Riley, a retired Major General with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works division, has overseen flood control projects, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Riley told CTV News Channel that he believes Harvey was so powerful it would “overwhelm any system.”

“Essentially, they had a year’s worth of rain in just a little more than three days,” he said.

But, he addeed, that doesn’t mean Houston isn’t particularly vulnerable to flooding.

“It’s in a very wide, broad floodplain that’s based on more clay soils that don’t absorb well,” he explained. “There’s (also) multiple rivers that flow in and through Houston.”

A pair of reservoirs were built in the city in 1940, he said, after a million acres of cotton field flooded in 1935.

“Well, now there’s probably a million acres of homes and buildings there now,” he said. “There has been a lot of development.”

“People are living essentially on the upper side of those reservoirs,” he added. “So when the reservoirs filled, the first places to flood, of course, were those homes right there.”

Dams, reservoirs, canals and streets designed to convey water were all built in subsequent years, he said. But none of them were made to handle a storm like Harvey, he added. “All the planning assumptions went out the window.”

If Houston is to thrive again and avoid a similarly fate in the future, better zoning, improved building codes and more infrastructure must created, Riley said.

Citizens, he added, should also be truly made aware of flooding risks in their neighbourhoods.

“You’ve got to assess the risk,” he said. “They have to know where they’re living so that they become responsible for their own decision on where they live and work.”

With a report from CTV National News Atlantic bureau chief Todd Battis

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