The recent flooding of Houston made me think of numbers (because that’s the kind of guy I am).

One of my friends lives inside the City of Houston, and his house was not flooded (because the city is built on a hill, relatively speaking, of about 400 ft. above sea level. But it’s an island, so to speak, because most of the surrounding area is less than 100 ft. above the Gulf of Mexico — hence the massive floods caused by Harvey).

For my British Readers, let me give some perspective. The Greater London area (population 8.8 million) comprises about 605 square miles; greater Houston (pop. 6.5 million) comprises just over 8,900 square miles (in the U.S., “greater” is labeled as “metropolitan statistical area”, or MSA).

In so large an area, you’ll get a situation like this:

Texans don’t trust government, so they rescued each other when things got desperate

Across Southeast Texas, police, firefighters, the National Guard, the Coast Guard and other agencies responded with immense force. But in a storm of Harvey’s sheer monstrousness — hundreds of miles across, lingering for days with bucketing rain that swallowed roads and initially kept rescue aircraft grounded — no government response could ever have been enough.

So ordinary people took up the challenge.

When Andrew Brenneise saw his West Houston neighborhood flooding at a ferocious pace last Saturday, his first thought was Facebook Live. He pulled out his smartphone in the punishing rain and pleaded for volunteers with boats.

Forty-five minutes later, the first truck arrived with a boat on a trailer. Then ten more. Then twenty. Then Brenneise had a flotilla of fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and flat-bottomed skiffs which, over the next six days, rescued hundreds of people and animals.

“This is who we are,” said Brenneise, 31, a business development manager at a chemical company. “The police and firefighters can’t be everywhere, so the community has to step in and take control.”

It’s true that by and large, Texans don’t trust the government (any government, even our own) — our state constitution is the most restrictive covenant in the world — but coupled to that is the realization that government can’t be everywhere, all the time (especially as in the absence of a state income tax, we can’t and don’t want to fund it). That’s true even in the best of times, as it happens, which means that in a massive crisis like Harvey, we have to take care of ourselves — and it looks like we did.

I also note that comparatively speaking, there doesn’t seem to have been too much thievery, no doubt because of the many “You loot, we’ll shoot” signs that popped up all over the place. Yeah, we include “defense of our property” in the list of things we don’t entirely delegate to government either. And any suggestion that government agencies should disarm Texans in times of disaster would be met with mocking laughter, not just from ordinary people but also from our elected politicians and police forces.

Now for the rebuilding. Texas has an aptly-named “rainy day fund” of just under $10 billion, which we’re going to have to dip into, I guess. The federal government will probably kick in as well — and before anyone jumps in with a “so you hate government but you’ll take their money” snark, let me remind y’all that we Texans do pay federal income taxes — and in any event, if the rest of the U.S.A. wants gasoline for their cars, we’ll need to fix the drowned oil refineries around Houston too; so yeah, the feds should come to the party.

I haven’t really kept on top of this — I’ve been eating Full English Breakfasts, getting plastered on warm ale, and swanning around stately palaces, sue me — but that seems to be a reasonable overview of the situation.

Feel free to add corrections and comments in the usual place.

Afterthought:  the Dallas-Ft. Worth MSA (pop. 7.1 million) extends for 9,268 square miles, fifteen times the size of Greater London.


  1. > “so you hate government but you’ll take their money”

    In addition to “You took my taxes, I’ll take some back” there is “We hate government not because of how much it helps in emergencies, but by how much it hinders and hurts the rest of the time.”

  2. One dumb thing I saw on the bookface was a meme by Bernie proporting that only the wholesale adoption of Socialism can help save/rebuild Texas.
    Because it worked so well in Venezuela, Cuba, amirite?
    What a dumbass.

  3. “It’s true that by and large, Texans don’t trust the government (any government, ESPECIALLY our own) —……….”

    Fixed it for ya

  4. Within the city limits, the highest elevation, northwest part, is 125. Harris County, 150.

    I think the feds, in the 3-month money deal with Trump, are allocating $15 billion for Houston.

    Over a million flooded cars. There will be a bunch of scamming with many of them.

    Guesstimations are that some insurance companies will go broke. Others will survive; the stock prices will drop but wait until after Irma to buy in. 🙂

  5. There’s an apples-to-oranges comparison here. A US MSA includes the whole area of any county, any part of which is is part of the built-up area of the metropolis. The Houston MSA includes nine counties (Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Brazoria, Galveston, Liberty, Waller, Chambers, and Austin) and covers a lot of undeveloped area, including state parks, wildlife reserves, and thousands of working farms and ranches.

    The equivalent area for London would be Greater London and the seven surrounding counties (Kent, Essex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Berkshire) , which have almost as many people as Greater London. The total area is 6,955 square miles, which is not much smaller than the Houston MSA. Though still much denser overall – about 17.3M, which is about 2,500/sq mi, compared to 730/sq mi.

    But that’s only three to one. And while Greater London’s 14,500 sq/mi is 20 times Houston MSA’s density, it’s only 5.5 times the 2,600 of Harris County, which has half the Houston MSA’s population.

    There is a big difference – just not as huge as the chosen comparison suggests.

    Yeah, I’m a compulsive pedant. At least it distracts from envy: the only liquor store in the Chicago area which claims to carry Wadworth 6X doesn’t have it at the branch I can get to.

    1. All valid points. I was trying, however, feebly, to get the populations of London and Houston to be as close to identical as possible, and it really isn’t because, as you note, of the wildly-disparate densities. And I would respectfully suggest that for two urban areas, a population density difference of 5.5x is considerable.
      Which was kinda my point.

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