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Study Finds Most Hurricane Harvey Drownings Occurred Outside Flood Zones

Hurricane Harvey caused unprecedented damage throughout the state of Texas. The massive storm flooded homes, closed businesses, and took lives. A recent study has shed more light on the power of the storm and the lives it claimed.

A team consisting of Dutch and Texan researchers found that most drownings in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey occurred in areas the government did not consider at risk for flooding. Known as the 100- and 500-year floodplains, these designations belong to regions that have historically flooded during large storms. Hurricane Harvey proved to be so severe that it flooded homes outside of these floodplains.

“It was surprising to me that so many fatalities occurred outside the flood zones,” said Sebastiaan Jonkman, a professor from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Drowning: Hurricane Harvey’s Most Prolific Killer

According to the research, drowning caused 80 percent of fatalities during Hurricane Harvey. However, only 22 percent of these drownings occurred within Harris County’s historic floodplain. These rates of drowning outside of flood-prone areas are surprising because designated floodplains are usually “reasonable predictors of high-risk areas.”

The team found that:

  • At least 70 people were killed by Hurricane Harvey
  • 37 deaths occurred in Harris County
  • 8 deaths were in the 100-year floodplain
  • 10 deaths were in the 500-year floodplain
  • 19 deaths occurred outside the floodplain

However, researchers stress the floodplains should not be disregarded. They remain a useful indicator of areas that are at a heightened risk of flooding. A recent statewide plan for flood control recently received approval from the Texas Senate. It allocates more than $1.8 billion for flood planning and relief. Notably, the plan allocates millions of dollars in funds to create flood control plans across Texas. These new plans are intended to save lives and prevent significant damage if another large storm hits the state.