From a listener:
Hugh, The first individual you had on-air from Houston apparently does not know that Galveston has a SEVENTEEN foot seawall (not 8 feet) across much of the eastern side of the island that was constructed after the 1900 hurricane. He’s an idiot! I lived through Hurricane Alicia in Houston in August 1983 (“only” a Category 3 though it had been a Category 4 when it crossed first over Galveston Island which buffered the mainland) and there were two problems. One was the high wind speed (clocked at 117 MPH, as I recall, in downtown Houston when the eye of the hurricane moved directly over the city) and the associated tornados. (The combined high winds of Alicia along with the tornados knocked down much of the above ground electric grid with some areas in the southeastern service area of Houston Lighting and Power directly in the path of the hurricane being without power for more than 3 weeks while the grid was rebuilt. BTW, at that time, the rebuilding of the HL&P grid was the largest utility reconstruction effort in history.) I saw large boats strewn along I-45 on the route to Galveston that were pushed there by the storm surge of Alicia (a distance of several MILES from the coast). The second problem with Alicia (or any hurricane or tropical storm impacting Houston) was the heavy rain combined with the storm surge that pushed water backwards up the Ship Channel as well as the East-West bayous which are used for drainage. (The Corps of Engineers proposed a North-South drainage system after massive storm flooding in the 1940’s but the locals decided the plan was too expensive and opted to use the existing bayou system which is heavily influenced by storm surge coming in from Galveston Bay). The highest point in Houston is 30 feet above sea level and any kind of heavy rain combined with the storm surge causes immediate saturation of the drainage system and heavy flooding. It should be noted that during tropical storm Allison two years ago even the downtown area (among the higher points in the city) flooded which had never happened before in the twentieth century. The Houston Chronicle ran a series of articles after Alicia that pointed out how vulnerable Houston was to a hurricane whose path took it “up the chute” referring to a storm that moved directly up the Ship Channel. It was concluded from interviews with the Corps of Engineers and Harris County engineers that should a hurricane take such a path, the results would be catastrophic. Remember the largest concentration of oil refineries and associated process and chemical industries in the world sits on the Ship Channel. Major damage along that area (including flooding) would be devastating economically. Randy M.