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On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of approximately 200 km/hour. Harvey caused severe damages in coastal Texas due to extreme winds and storm surge, but will go down in history for record-setting rainfall totals and flood-related damages. Across large portions of southeast Texas, rainfall totals during the six-day period between August 25 and 31, 2017 were amongst the highest ever recorded, causing flooding at an unprecedented scale. More than 100,000 residential properties are estimated to have been affected in southeast Texas. It is likely that Harvey will rank among the costliest storms in U.S. history.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Delft University of Technology has initiated a Harvey Research Team to undertake a coordinated multidisciplinary investigation of the events with a focus on the greater Houston area. This ‘fact-finding’ research is based on information available from public sources during and in the first weeks after the event. Results are therefore preliminary, but aim to provide insight into lessons that can be learned for both Texas and the Netherlands. As part of the investigations, a hackathon with more than 80 participants was organized to collect and analyze available public information.

Houston was especially hard hit by flooding. During the event, all 22 watersheds in the greater Houston area experienced flooding. Many of Houston’s creeks and bayous exceeded their channel capacities, reaching water levels never before recorded. Across large portions of Harris County, rainfall totals exceeded the 1000-year return period. In addition, the water from the two reservoirs protecting downtown Houston (Addicks and Barker) were opened on August 28 to prevent catastrophic damages to the dams and further flooding in upstream communities. The releases exacerbated flooding in the areas downstream of the dams and an estimated 4,000 homes in neighborhoods downstream of the dams were impacted by flooding.

The consequences of the event in the greater Houston area have been characterized in terms of economic damages, loss of life and impacts on critical infrastructure, airports and industry. In total, more than 100,000 homes were affected more than 70 fatalities were reported in the greater Houston area. The event highlighted the vulnerability of industrial facilities, as several cascading impacts (releases of toxic materials and explosions) were reported.

Emergency response has been assessed. No large-scale mandatory evacuation was ordered before or during Harvey. However, it appeared that several local evacuations were ordered for areas with specific risks and circumstances. During the event, many people were trapped by rising waters necessitating a major rescue operation. In total, more than 10,000 rescues were made by professional and volunteer rescuers. Social media played an important role during the event and recovery, as an additional source of information, to inform emergency managers and as a means to organize community response e.g. for clean-up. Also, messages were conveyed through social media, e.g. a report of a levee breach that appeared to be incorrect afterwards.

Major flooding is a problem that has multiple causes from both physical and social origin. Based on the investigations, recommendations for future research and lessons for flood management have been formulated. A better understanding of the issues studied in this report is expected to contribute to a knowledge basis for further in-depth investigations and future directions for flood risk reduction.

Data collection and Report production funded by DIMI and DSys
Special Case 'Houston Galveston Bay Region, Texas, USA'
Project 'Harvey hackathon' and follow-up research
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDelft
PublisherDelft University Publishers
Number of pages102
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2017

    Research areas

  • Hurricane Harvey, flood, fact-finding, Houston, Texas, rainfall , impacts, damage, emergency response, land use planning, flood risk, hackathon, data collection, evacuation, critical infrastructure, fatalities

ID: 31273884