The storm that has claimed five lives in Houston so far started late Sunday, dumping almost 17 inches of rain on Harris County, Texas, by Monday afternoon.
A typical April rainfall in the area is just four inches and the devastation left behind by the record-breaking downpour may not be over just yet.
Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in nine counties as more rain is expected to hit the area on Tuesday night, with flood warnings already in place.
One advisor warned, “Avoid walking or driving through flood waters. Just six inches of moving water can knock you down and two feet of water can sweep your vehicle away.”
Thus far, drivers drowning in vehicles submerged by water have been the cause of all the casualties.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett confirmed that two people died in a car that ignored barricades at a freeway underpass. Another man was found inside an 18-wheeler truck that drove into high water on a freeway service road and a fourth was also discovered dead in a submerged vehicle near Houston Intercontinental Airport.
Interstate highways I-10 and I-45 were reported to be underwater near downtown and approximately 650 flights from George Bush Intercontinental Airport were canceled with more than 1,100 delays.
“Dude, you’ve got to get out of the car. You’ve got to get out!” reporter Steve Campion yelled as he watched a man drive into deep water. “Leave the car! Swim!”
Campion was preparing to broadcast live on a local news station but ended up helping to save a man’s life by reaching out to grab him as he swam to safe ground. The car sank under the water.
“I didn’t think the water was that deep,” the rescued man said.
But the devastation has not only impacted the roads. It has forced shutdowns of schools, city offices and the public transit system. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner even canceled the State of the City address that was scheduled for Monday.
“This is a dangerous situation and I do not want our employees trying to get to work,” he said, adding. “Do not go out until conditions improve.”
On Tuesday, it was business as usual as the mayor declared “all employees report to work. Municipal Courts open with exception of jury trials.”
Thousands of families fled their homes after the flooding and were seen wading through waist-high water carrying large plastic containers filled with as many belongings as they could take in the search for higher ground. One parent was forced to use a refrigerator as a floating device for two children.
“My stuff was literally floating,” said one Greenspoint resident, who described hearing a “loud sound of water coming through my walls.”
Still, experts warn that heading out into the water may be the worse thing anyone can do.
“If your home or apartment takes in water, DO NOT LEAVE. You are safer inside your home,” a statement by the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management warned. “Straying into deep or fast moving flood waters means certain death.”
An estimated 450 high-water rescues have taken place and approximately 1,000 people have sought refugee at a shopping mall before being transferred to shelters. Floodwaters have reportedly impacted homes along 14 of Houston’s bayous and creeks, including Bear Creek.
“This is hail that fell tonight in Bear Creek tonight,” local news tweeted along with a resident’s photo of huge pieces of ice.
As people fight to survive the treacherous conditions, animals are suffering too. Dozens of horses were rescued Monday in Houston after the Cypress Trail Horse Stables flooded. Varying reports estimate anywhere between 70 to 100 horses were involved as rescue workers struggled to save their lives.
Hundreds have taken to Twitter to capture the scene near their homes, which shows the impact the storm had on the area.
“Well this is what Cypresswood dr looks like… Water right at my doorstep,” one woman tweeted with photos of flooded roads.
“While rainfall has ended across the region this morning, additional scattered showers and thunderstorms will be possible today,” the county’s weather advisory stated Tuesday. “Any additional rainfall may keep flood waters from receding as quickly. Numerous roads remain closed from the extensive flooding from yesterday. Do not drive into flooded roads.”
(Photo: Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle via AP)