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Houston deluge: You cannot prepare for this, says Northern Ireland man caught up in devastation

By Jonathan Bell

Northern Ireland people caught up in Tropical Storm Harvey as it devastated the US city of Houston have been talking about living through a once in 1,000 years weather event.

Harvey was the fiercest hurricane to hit the US in decades and continues to cause chaos as a tropical storm, with more heavy rain expected over the coming days.

Thousands have been left homeless and injured, while it is thought to have claimed the lives of at least 14 people.

Cullybackey couple George and Dorothea Young are in the city visiting son Stephen and their grandchildren. Before setting off after last week's storm in Northern Ireland, they were told to pack their bathing costumes and get ready for good times.

"We were having a great time and then all of a sudden it changed," said retired health worker George (67).

In the space of three days some parts of the city had over 30 inches of rain - that's more than Belfast would usually have in the space of a year.

"We have been very lucky that my son lives on an elevation, so the house has not flooded, but we have had to follow the advice of just hunkering down and preparing for the worst," George said. "It wasn't raining, it was pouring, you could not see in front of you. The heavens opened, it was the ultimate and it was very scary, but my family have been very caring in looking after us."

While the house was not flooded, there was panic in the neighbourhood as water levels rose over the weekend, before receding.

"You have to see it to believe it," George added. "People are camped out on roofs, in their attics. To see cars with their lights on drift down water is just surreal. It has been so sad to see the devastation. It's surreal, an armageddon. We are very grateful to have avoided the very worst and I'll certainly never complain about the rain again at home."

Downpatrick man Chris Bohill has been living in Houston for the past 12 years. He has experienced multiple floods and one other hurricane. He described the deluge as "biblical".

"Nothing can prepare you for this," he told this newspaper. "It is a massive city of seven million people and now some of it is underwater. It is bigger than all of Northern Ireland and the sheer devastation it has caused has been unreal. They talk about 10/12 trillion gallons of rainfall - you just can't comprehend those numbers. But we were lucky, we didn't get the wind. Had the power cut, then things could have been much worse, people would have been forced to move."

Chris's home has become an island with floodwaters encircling him, leaving himself and his wife Megan to rely on their dwindling supplies.

The 40-year-old said he watched in anguish as the water crept toward his house, thankfully abating just before reaching the property on Sunday. Chris said the tight-knit Irish community in the city have been on the lookout for each other, but he said he is fearful of the forecast rains still to come.

"It's one eye on the news and the other on the window," the oil and gas worker added. "The authorities have done it right, they prepared us well and everyone has been listening. But it will take years to overcome the devastation and the city landscape will be changed forever."

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