The flood waters on Cleburne Road in south Fort Worth rose high enough to reach Ikena Agwagu’s stomach as rain dumped into the road directly outside his office.

He watched in shock Aug. 22 as first responders pulled a woman from her car in the floodwaters. 

“I was scared for that lady for real, like she was shaking when the police pulled her out of the water,” Agwagu, the office manager for Southside Veterinary Clinic, said. 

During the downpour Aug. 22, Fort Worth fire and police departments responded to 156 calls related to flooding. A Fort Worth Report analysis of the emergency responses details the locations where repeated rescues occurred. Many are well-known problem areas to city officials, but the historic rains underscored Fort Worth’s high level of susceptibility to flooding.

“That was one of the busiest days I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been doing this for 28 years,” said Alan Lake, swift water rescue and dive coordinator. “It may have been the busiest day we’ve ever had, really.”

The calls were in response to vehicles stuck in roadways, water seeping into homes and even farm animals caught in high waters. 

The rain was historic. The National Weather Service reported 8.41 inches of rain in Fort Worth between Aug. 21 and Aug. 22. It was the second-highest total amount of rainfall ever recorded in a 24-hour period in North Texas. 

Residents placed emergency calls in response to flooding across the city.

Emergency calls related to flooding were spread out across the city. Fort Worth fire and police were called to some locations up to four times throughout the day.

*Red markers indicate that the area received multiple emergency calls. Blue markers indicate where only one emergency call was placed.

Emergency responders were called out to some areas of the city multiple times throughout the day: 

  • Riverside Drive near U.S. Route 377
  • The intersection of Berry Street and U.S. Highway 287
  • North Littlejohn Avenue
  • Camp Bowie Boulevard near Ridglea Theater 
  • Carroll Street in the West 7th Street area 
  • Birchman Avenue
  • 4920 Mark IV Pkwy
  • West Dickson Street and Travis Avenue
  • Cleburne Road and West Devitt Street
  • West Berry Street and Sandage Avenue
  • Trinity Boulevard 

Fixing flooding: A tall order

Fort Worth has a plan addressing hazardous road overtopping, which is when roads become flooded with enough water to threaten the safety of motorists. The city identified 300 sites with potentially dangerous roads. 

It would cost the city at least $1 billion to address all of the stormwater improvements the city needs, the study said. While funding for stormwater has increased in recent years, culminating in a $136 million capital improvement plan through the 2023 budget, it still is only about one-tenth of the money needed. 

About 50 sites have flashing signs that warn motorists of flooding and urge them to turn around. The flashers were placed in 2013 in partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation. Now, the city places new flashers based on the risk of flooding. 

The placement of more flashers is limited by the budget and the lack of resources for field engineers, who monitor each of the sites. 

Meanwhile, the city is working on eight different projects to combat flooding across Fort Worth.

Areas that recently received or are scheduled to receive improvements: 

  • Shoreview Drive and Bomber Road is completed.
  • 28th Street near Decatur Avenue is about to start construction.
  • Comanche Trail between Marina Drive and Malaga Drive is about to start construction.
  • Cravens Road between Oakdale Drive and Baylor Street is in design.
  • 600 Haltom Road, where design should begin this fall.
  • Cunningham Street just west of Crowley Road, where design should begin this fall.
  • Randol Mill Road just south of Mallard Cove Park where design should begin this fall.
  • Las Vegas Trail between Shoreview and Heron is a partnership with TxDOT, the city is working on pre-design.

Preventing flooding on roads is the top priority of Fort Worth’s stormwater management division. About 300 road crossings across the city could be hazardous to motorists, said Naven Kathuroju, an engineer with the city. 

Fort Worth prioritizes street resilience projects based on the severity of flooding and the feasibility of solving the problem, Kathuroju said. For example, costlier repairs on constantly flooding roads might get passed over for areas that have simpler fixes.

The stormwater management division uses data from rain events like the one on Aug. 22 to inform how and when it improves roads. The division keeps track of all the high-water incidents at each location and scores them based on severity. 

“We have several competing priorities across the city from a flood mitigation standpoint,”  Kathuroju said. “But this being the life-safety issue, we are heavily focused on this, and we have put in a lot of bond funding that we received into improving these locations.”

Cities face an overwhelming challenge in adequately addressing the root causes of the flooding,  said Nick Fang, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington. 

Fang attributed three reasons for why Fort Worth was uniquely susceptible to road flooding in late August:

  • Its proximity to the Trinity River.
  • The volume of rainfall.
  • The age of existing infrastructure. 

Fort Worth designs and builds its roads to the latest standards set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, making them more resilient to flooding, Kathuroju said. However, older roads were not built to those same standards and retroactively improving them can be prohibitively expensive, Fang said. 

“There are budget constraints,” Fang said. “I personally don’t think anyone can fully fix those flood problems.” 

Warning residents

Instead, most cities opt to invest in infrastructure that alerts drivers to dangerous roads, such as flashers, bars, roadrails and floodgates.

“Those are our main solutions. You need to have reliable information to make a decision and say, ‘You cannot pass right there,’” Fang said. 

The city has already identified the stretch of Cleburne Road near Agwagu’s clinic as a site of hazardous flooding. However, the road is not scheduled to receive improvements. 

There are no flashers near the Cleburne road intersection. Motorists likely had no idea they were driving into such deep water, Agwagu said. 

The Fort Worth Fire Department urges motorists to turn around when approaching high water. 

Fort Worth offers a flood warning map that is updated in real time during a rain event. The map is intended to help motorists avoid dangerous roads, but includes only 161 potential sites. 

Across the street from Agwagu’s clinic, employees at Amazing Golf Carts were forced to evacuate their office. Four inches of water made its way inside the building. It took the company two days to recover, office manager Cris Orona said. 

As the water creeped its way closer to the building, Orona watched as cars got stuck in the roadway. 

“I’ve never seen that before. People are getting rescued from their cars like right in the middle of the street,” Orona said. “It’s not a thing you see every day.”

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Rachel Behrndt

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for fortworthreport.org. She can be reached at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org