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More Rain Expected As Massive Flooding Shuts Down Houston

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The search goes on in Texas for at least 40 people who are missing after severe storms have flooded the state. In Houston, where at least three people have died, a state of emergency has been declared. Carrie Feibel of Houston Public Media reports the nation's fourth-largest city is virtually shut down.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUNNING WATER)

CARRIE FEIBEL, BYLINE: That's water draining out of a window of a law office in downtown Houston. Inside, leather chairs and a conference table are covered with mud. Almost a foot of rain fell in parts of Houston last night on top of ground already saturated by weeks of rain.

ED EMMETT: One thunderstorm after another came straight over this area.

FEIBEL: Ed Emmett is the Harris County chief executive. He says the rivers here, known as bayous, topped their banks and spilled onto highways and into neighborhoods.

EMMETT: With daylight coming, we've been able to fly over the area, and there appear to be hundreds of homes that have been inundated.

FEIBEL: Emergency crews responded to more than 500 calls for water rescue, mostly drivers stranded in cars.

CARMEN ESTRELLA: It came so fast - all of a sudden.

FEIBEL: Carmen Estrella was forced to sleep in her car overnight after leaving a sports bar where she was watching the Rockets basketball game.

ESTRELLA: And I was witnessing all the lightning and all the rain and everything and no place to go to eat - nothing. I mean, you know, you were just, like, abandoned.

FEIBEL: Schools closed today. Light rail and buses were out of service, and people were told to stay home. Christopher Ramirez tried to drive to his job at a hospital this morning and spent four hours in traffic before giving up and turning back.

CHRISTOPHER RAMIREZ: It's just overwhelming 'cause I've never seen something like this in - since, I guess, the Katrina. And it's amazing what Mother Nature can do, you know, in such a short period of time.

FEIBEL: Heavy rains and tornadoes have hit Texas and Oklahoma over the past few days. Officials are still searching for people and assessing damage from flooding in and around Austin and San Antonio. In Houston, the floodwaters started to go down today, revealing at least 2,500 abandoned cars and trucks. County emergency office spokesman Francisco Sanchez says more could appear.

FRANCISCO SANCHEZ: Yeah, the challenge to that is it happened overnight, so one, it's dark and then some of those cars are underwater right now. So as those waters start to recede we'll have a better idea of how many vehicles were actually stranded, and hopefully people were able to get out of those situations safely.

FEIBEL: The storms have gone for now, but residents are eyeing the forecast with more rain expected soon. For NPR News, I'm Carrie Feibel in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.