Engineers looking at infrastructure to explain flooding from Hurricane Harvey


TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Engineers are starting to look into what may have gone wrong with infrastructure as flood waters recede in Houston.

“People have been saying for years, if a big flood comes along, Houston will get flooded,” RPI professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Tom Zimmie said.

Houston was bound to flood. Most of the land is so flat that water has no place to go.

“When I say flat, I mean there’s no big mountains there,” Zimmie said.

It wasn’t surprising to see Hurricane Harvey flood Houston. But what was surprising was the amount that it did causing devastation to the fourth most populous city in the country.

“It was just an unprecedented storm,” Zimmie said.

But Zimmie said it could have been worse if the city hadn’t taken steps to improve infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina.

“I think they strengthened some of the buildings and added some flood protection,” he said.

In the 12 years since Katrina, Zimmie has been studying what caused the levees to fail in New Orleans.

“In Katrina, a lot of the levees were mismanaged,” he explained. “They didn’t mass. They had open places and things like that.”

Using the centrifuge and exact models of those levees, he and other engineers learned how to make them more resistant to high levels of water.

“We were able to figure out why,” he said. “Why did it fail when it should not have failed?”

While it’s still too early to know if any levees or other infrastructure failed in Houston, Zimmie said there’s only so much they can do for a 500-year flood.

“Floods are going to occur,” he said. “These things happen. You try to be well prepared, but you can’t stop Mother Nature.”

Zimmie said once the flood waters are finished receding, then engineers will be able to start analyzing what may have gone wrong in Houston.

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