Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath is being described by city officials as a “500-year” flood, which is a shorthand for a flood that, given historical data, has a 1 in 500 chance of happening any given year.
Harvey was going to be a disaster no matter what, but it wouldn’t be true to say no one in Houston’s government could have seen something like this coming and worked to mitigate the risk. Harvey is the third “500-year” event to hit the Houston area in three years. [Insert obligatory joke about need to update “500-year” event.] But many others, including investigative journalists and academics in Texas, have been warning Houston officials about the risks. Throughout 2016, the Texas Tribune and ProPublica conducted a joint investigation project, “Hell and High Water,” about Houston’s lack of preparation for hurricanes and massive flooding.
Those warnings went unheeded by Harris County officials. (Harris County contains the city of Houston and its surrounding area.) As the Tribune’s Neena Satija and Kiah Collier ProPublica’s Al Shaw reported in December 2016:
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