Birds-eye view of flooded Houston captures Harvey’s totality

Flying over the Houston area most days is a postcard of America: crisscrossing highways, skyscrapers, hulking shopping plazas, oil refineries, big houses, cattle pastures. Then there’s the view after Harvey.

“I had an idea, but once you can get up there and actually physically see it, the water is never-ending,” said David Phillip, an Associated Press photographer who has called Houston home for two decades.

Phillip got a bird’s-eye view this week after Harvey dumped more than 50 inches (127 centimetres) of rain in and around the nation’s fourth-largest city. His photographs show rows of suburban streets turned into canals and brownish floodwaters creeping up to rooftops. In one photo, a mansion’s long cul-de-sac driveway resembles a drawbridge over a moat.

Phillip was taken aback by water submerging the Interstate 69 bridge over the San Jacinto River.

“It makes you pause and think about it. This is my home. It has been for 20 years. It’s tough to see your friends and neighbours and people in the community go through that,” he said.

Phillip hasn’t stopped often since Harvey made landfall Friday night. He started in Galveston and by Sunday was driving the wrong way down Houston’s flooded Interstate 610, normally one of the busiest sections of highways in the U.S. Later he was on board a rescue boat when it struck something, flipping him backward and out of the boat.

The propeller got his leg before Phillip was pulled from the water, leaving a bruise. He lost his glasses and ruined a camera lens.

Phillip, who is 51, is no stranger to photographing major storms, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As the water from Harvey recedes he sees familiar devastation. “Everything, generally, 4 feet down is taken out of every house.” Streets in Houston are now becoming lined with couches, hardwood flooring, baseboards and pianos.

He called covering Harvey more personal than previous storm assignments. Phillip said Wednesday was his first day he could travel the roads freely again, and in the neighbourhood of Meyerland, he found homeowners tearing out drywall and trying to salvage belongings.

“People have had to break windows of neighbour’s home to get to their second floor while swimming through floodwaters. Crawled through windows. Swam to be picked up,” Phillip said. “Everybody has a survival story.”

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