A Storm Soaks Austin and the Texas Corridors of Power

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Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday declared an “all hands on deck” response to the flooding inside the State Capitol.

A Storm Soaks Austin and the Texas Corridors of Power
Up to five inches of rain had fallen on parts of the Austin, Texas, area by Sunday evening, raising concerns for flash flooding. Credit...Aaron E. Martinez/Austin American-Statesman
A Storm Soaks Austin and the Texas Corridors of Power

Driving rain that soaked Austin, Texas, and gave rise to flash flood warnings on Sunday also left the corridors of power inside the State Capitol looking like a tributary of the Colorado River.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas declared an “all hands on deck” response to flooding in the Capitol’s underground extension. Video of the flooding posted on Twitter appears to show water pouring in through a skylight and coursing into a hallway already covered in ankle-high water.

The Capitol is better known as the site of explosive politics, including a headline-grabbing filibuster in 2013 against abortion restrictions and a vote this month to arrest legislators who fled the state in an effort to block the passage of a restrictive election measure.

But the state has also been the setting for weather emergencies, like the deadly winter storm in February that left residents without power or running water as temperatures plunged.

Mr. Abbott said on Twitter that his office was working with the State Preservation Board, which maintains the Capitol and other state buildings, “as well as all applicable agencies to address flooding at the Capitol stemming from the current storm in Austin.”

The person who posted the video of the flooding in the Capitol did not immediately respond to a Twitter message or an email on Sunday afternoon.

In a statement Sunday evening, Chris Currens, director of special projects for the State Preservation Board, explained how the Capitol flooded. A torrential thunderstorm in downtown Austin “resulted in flooding at the Texas State Capitol when a storm water drain clogged, backing up water into the capital extension,” Mr. Currens said.

Employees of the board removed the water and “are now drying out affected areas overnight.” The building will be open for business Monday morning, he said.

In a message to legislators posted on Twitter on Sunday evening, State Representative Will Metcalf, chairman of the Committee on House Administration, referred to the episode as “minor flooding.”

A State Capitol employee cleaned up a corridor after a drenching rain caused flooding on the bottom floor of the Capitol extension.Credit...Aaron E. Martinez / American-Statesman

The flooding came as a flash flood warning was in effect for Travis County, which includes Austin.

In a 4 p.m. update for central Travis County, the National Weather Service announced that up to five inches of rain had already fallen in some areas, with “the highest amounts reported over downtown Austin.”

It also warned about “life-threatening flash flooding of creeks and streams, urban areas, highways, streets and underpasses.” Going forward, only light rainfall was expected in the area, the service said.

By Sunday afternoon, precipitation had begun to taper off in Austin, but the area had already experienced intense rain, according to Eric Platt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Texas.

The combination of moisture accumulating in the air and slow-moving storms in the area is “a good recipe for flash flooding,” Mr. Platt said. And that can lead to flooding in parts of Austin, where the rocky soil cannot absorb much rainwater, and where parts of the city have been built near low-lying, flood-prone creeks, he said.

“There are normally dry creeks and drainages and there are traffic roads that go through those,” Mr. Platt said. “So instead of building a bridge, the road was built through that drainage. Well that’s fine when it’s dry, but when it rains a lot in a hurry, then the water covers the roadway,” leading to potentially dangerous flooding.

Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.