The great flood of 1991-92

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

In January 1992, then-Brazoria County Judge James Phillips was asked by an Associated Press reporter which flood in his opinion has been the worst – this one or the one last year?

“It’s the same flood,” Phillips answered. “We’ve been having it for a while.”

It was called the Christmas flood that started on Dec. 18, 1991 and extended into January 1992. It was one of the few times when the Brazos River and Oyster Creek merged. About 500 homes flooded in Brazoria County, half of them in Holiday Lakes.

Whoever was the FEMA head at the time came down to tour Holiday Lakes and get his picture taken. By the time he got here, the waters actually receded, so it took a while.

The neighborhood north of Columbia Lakes by the San Bernard River was one big lake. A Houston Chronicle photographer and I floated through those streets in a boat. I was covering this area for the Chronicle at the time. No other major media was around that neighborhood. When you live around here, you know where it floods. It’s always the same places.

Most of the homes were and still are on stilts, and they were fine. The problem was that they could only be accessed by boat. The photographer and I didn’t know what we would find. We were looking for a story, something out of the ordinary.

In the middle of all this flooding, we came upon a house surrounded by an earthen levee. We tied the boat up by the entrance and were greeted by its’ occupants, a couple who decided to protect their home, which was built on the ground, not on stilts.

If New Orleans had a larger version of the pumping system this house had, it would have stayed bone dry in 2005. It made for a good story, especially at a time when the news desk in Houston wanted more human interest stories as the flooding continued.

Each morning, I would send a note to Houston, get a call from the editor, and we would discuss what angle of the flooding we would work on that day. After a while, it was slim picking. The holiday angle could be repeated just so many times.

One day I found out that residents just outside the Angleton flood levee complained that the drainage district was pumping water from inside the city on them and creating more flooding.

They had a point, but the pumping, along with the levee, kept the city dry, schools open and business as usual. The rural areas already had plenty of water, and a little more would not make all that much difference, the reasoning went.

Lake Jackson did the same thing, pumping the flood waters over its levees.

Then there was the man who lived in his truck on the side of the road because his mobile home was flooded.

Rosharon was under water, as was most of Holiday Lakes and Bailey’s Prairie. But the home built to look like the Alamo escaped damage.

The rural subdivision, Planters Point, behind Holiday Lakes, which ends at Brazos River County Park, was also under water. But because the homes were constructed following newer elevation regulations, they remained dry. Inaccessible, but dry. It was surreal, with all the trees and homes and driveways sticking out of the water.

I didn’t cover any fatalities during all those weeks. People here know what to do to get out of harm’s way. But the county did suffer a lot of damage.

Dear reader, if you have any more memories of the great 1991-92 flood, or photos, please share them via email, and I’ll be glad to share them with our readers.

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