As Harvey loomed, city-owned cars parked underground; $10M loss

Cars in Parking Garage

HOUSTON — As Hurricane Harvey drew menacingly close, city officials here made the call to store more than 100 city-owned vehicles in an underground parking garage.

It flooded, causing in excess of $10 million in damage, leaving at least one Houston city councilman outraged at the loss.

“It doesn’t make sense,” City Councilman Michael Kubosh told ABC13’s Ted Oberg.

From Ted Oberg:

As Harvey approached and the forecast went from historic to epic amounts of expected rain, the city stashed more than 100 of its cars and trucks in an underground parking facility that had flooded previously during Tropical Storm Allison.

“Since Allison, when they took flood precautions, they have not flooded,” said Jedediah Greenfield, spokesperson for the city of Houston’s fleet management department. “It was not prone to flooding.”

Until now.

Once the millions of gallons of floodwater was drained, the city towed more than 100 waterlogged, ruined, city cars and trucks, sadly wearing the city logo and the brown mark of flooding to a north side lot.

There was little time to save the cars. Indeed, it was not a top priority, particularly for city police, as evidenced by a Newsweek profile of new Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo:

From Newsweek:

The chief’s ability to command his cops to report in uniform on Friday and work long shifts during the flooding likely saved lives, especially when compared with the New Orleans police department during Hurricane Katrina, when only a quarter of the officers in some police districts remained on duty during the worst of the storm. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who spoke with Acevedo four or five times a day during Harvey, praised the police response Thursday, tweeting, “Our 1st responders saving lives every hour.”

Still, Oberg pointed out that the city did not need to lose all those vehicles. For example, METRO buses were parked high above interstates on HOV lanes, keeping them out of harm’s way.

There is no city-wide plan to save vehicles, despite Houston being flooded regularly.

“Someone is responsible,” Kubosh told ABC13. “We need to quit losing our vehicles in floods.”

See Ted Oberg’s full report here, along with video and interactive graphics.

Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.

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Trent is an award-winning editor and reporter, who has previously worked The Denver Post, The (Nashville) Tennessean, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Most recently, he was the investigative producer for Houston’s KTRK-TV ABC-13. He was also the editor and founder of Texas Watchdog, a ground-breaking news group that paved the way for this project. Trent is a teacher of journalism skills, and has shown hundreds of reporters and citizen-journalists how to use public records, databases and journalism tools to keep a watchful eye on their own local government.