Officials in Houston warn of ‘catastrophic’ flooding as heavy storms slam region

The Houston area was under threat of worsening flood conditions on Saturday, a day after heavy storms slammed the region – and authorities warned those in low-lying areas to evacuate ahead of an expected “catastrophic” surge of water the likes of which haven’t been seen since Hurricane Harvey.

A flood watch remained in effect through Sunday afternoon as forecasters predicted additional rainfall on Saturday night, bringing another 1-3in (2.5-7.6cm) of water to the soaked region and the likelihood of major flooding.

Friday’s storms forced numerous high-water rescues, including some from the rooftops of flooded homes. Officials redoubled urgent instructions for residents in low-lying areas to evacuate, warning that the worst was still to come.

“This threat is ongoing and it’s going to get worse. It is not your typical river flood,” said Harris county judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in the nation’s third-largest county.

She described the predicted surge of water as “catastrophic” and said several hundred structures were at risk of flooding. There had already been at least two dozen water rescues in the county, in addition to 30 pets moved to safety. Schools in the path of the flooding canceled classes and roads jammed as authorities closed highways taking on water.

For weeks, drenching rains in Texas and parts of Louisiana have filled reservoirs and saturated the ground. Flood waters partly submerged cars and roads this week across parts of south-eastern Texas, north of Houston, where high waters reached the roofs of some homes.

More than 11in (28cm) of rain fell during a 24-hour period that ended on Friday morning in the northern Houston suburb of Spring, according to the National Weather Service.

Authorities in Houston had not reported any deaths or injuries. The city of more than 2 million people is one of the most flood-prone metro areas in the country and has long experience dealing with devastating weather.

Hurricane Harvey in 2017 dumped historic rainfall on the area, flooding thousands of homes and resulting in more than 60,000 rescues by government rescue personnel across Harris county.

Of particular concern was an area along the San Jacinto River in the north-eastern part of Harris county, which was expected to continue rising as more rain falls and officials release extra water from an already full reservoir. Hidalgo on Thursday issued a mandatory evacuation order for those living along portions of the river.

Shelters have opened across the region, including nine by the American Red Cross.

The greater Houston area covers about 10,000 sq miles (26,000 sq km) – a footprint slightly bigger than New Jersey. It is crisscrossed by about 1,700 miles (2,736km) of channels, creeks and bayous that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles (80km) to the south-east from downtown.

The city’s system of bayous and reservoirs was built to drain heavy rains. But engineering initially designed nearly 100 years ago has struggled to keep up with the city’s growth and bigger storms.

The Guardian