As Houston and the rest of the Texas coast begin the recovery from Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented devastation, the roughly 10 inches of rain Austin received from the storm certainly doesn’t seem like much. Businesses along the city’s twin downtown waterways, Waller and Shoal Creeks, laid some sandbags down and called it a day.
But a little more than 100 years ago, 10 inches of rain was serious business.
On April 22, 1915, about 10 inches of heavy rainfall caused both Waller and Shoal Creeks to overflow their banks in a flash flood that killed about 60 people and decimated the homes of about 1,000 more.
At the time, the land along the banks of both creeks was packed with the homes of the city’s poorest population, resulting in many structures existing in a constant state of disrepair — certain portions resembled a shantytown, by some appraisals.
These homes were no match for the floodwaters, which carried them away intact in at least a few cases, as described by news reports at the time.
A comparison view of the Sixth Street Bridge over Waller Creek in 1920 and the present day. POV from Sabine Condos. Photos courtesy of the Austin History Center / Waller Creek Conservancy.
The death toll of roughly 60 people could even be low, owing to the poor record-keeping of the era — many immigrants and other minority families lived along these waterways.
Though the city rebuilt, Austin’s creeks would see significant flooding again in 1938, 1981, and 2015 — but with the construction of the Waller Creek Flood Control Tunnel, along with improvements to Shoal Creek on the horizon, danger from flash flooding on these waterways may become a thing of the past. The same 10 inches of rain that devastated the city in 1915 looked a bit tamer in the creeks over the weekend.
— Emily Smith (@ehsinatx) August 28, 2017
— Peter D Mullan (@peterdmullan) August 27, 2017
That’s due, at least in part, to the Waller tunnel doing its job. The project’s total cost is sitting pretty at $163 million and counting, but if that keeps the destruction of 1915 from striking the city again, it’s definitely worth the investment. What’s this about a Shoal Creek tunnel?
Here’s more information about how you can help the victims of Hurricane Harvey.