ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The situation in Houston is getting more dire by the hour, and it will be difficult to assess the scope of this catastrophe for a long time. Thousands of people have already fled their homes, with more doing so. The Red Cross says more than 17,000 people have sought shelter. There are about 9,000 people being housed at the convention center in downtown Houston. And the city is opening other shelters.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
For more from Texas, we are joined by NPR's Wade Goodwyn. Hello there, Wade.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Hello.
MCEVERS: So the estimates of the amount of water that Hurricane and now Tropical Storm Harvey have dumped on Houston are just simply staggering. What can you tell us about the numbers?
GOODWYN: The numbers are unbelievable. Just the city itself - the amount of water is estimated to be around a trillion gallons - like, 3 feet of rain. The city's beautiful theater district's underwater. Downtown is a swamped mess. Homes and businesses everywhere - everywhere - thousands and thousands are full of water. This is one of the greatest weather catastrophes in the nation's history.
MCEVERS: And this afternoon, I understand things got pretty emotional at a press conference when the Houston Police chief announced that a veteran police officer is one of those who died. Can you tell us what happened there?
GOODWYN: Yeah, it's tragic. Sergeant Steve Perez was a 30-year veteran Houston Police officer, and he was trying to get to work. His wife begged him not to go in, but he wasn't having it in the midst of a crisis like this. He was trapped so quickly. He radioed for help but couldn't make it out. Here's the Houston Police chief, Art Acevedo.
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CHIEF ART ACEVEDO: So we couldn't find him. And once our dive team got there, it was too treacherous to go under and look for him. So we made a decision to leave officers there waiting until the morning because as much as we wanted to recover him last night, we could not put another - more officers at risk for what we knew in our hearts was going to be a recovery mission.
GOODWYN: And there's another terrible report of a family of six drowning in a van, four children and two grandparents with only the driver escaping. But you know, the water is just so fast and deep. There's no way to confirm it yet. And that's why there's really no official state death toll. There are these awful eyewitness reports. But without bodies, confirmation is just a bridge too far. It's completely understandable.
MCEVERS: We heard today reports of reservoirs beginning to overtop dams and a levee being breached. Where is this happening, and are more evacuations underway in these areas?
GOODWYN: Yes, they are as we speak. The dam at Addicks Reservoir began overtopping this morning, and the dam it Barker Reservoir is expected to overtop at the end of day. These are old, earthen dams that had stability issues before the storm. And needless to say, a dam failure would be bad. It would be like dumping a swimming pool into your backyard with the water spreading out in all directions and, in this case, further swamping downtown.
As to this levee breach on the Brazos River south of Houston, we don't know much yet except the all-caps warning posted by the county officials today on the web telling people to get out now. The Braz is predicted to crest 5 feet higher than the record flood level set just last May. So it's a furious torrent. And I can only imagine that situation as we speak - not good.
MCEVERS: NPR's Wade Goodwyn, thank you very much.
GOODWYN: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.