HOUSTON (AP) _ As floodwaters from Tropical Storm Allison began to recede, crews scrambled to open roads Monday that were clogged by a weekend deluge that left 18 people dead and did an estimated $1 billion in damage.
Houston Mayor Lee Brown urged businesses to give their workers the day off Monday as the city recovers from floodwaters that reached rooftops in some neighborhoods.
``I'm asking employers to consider (Monday) a day of recovery, to let downtown get back on track, back on its feet, to take the day off, to take care of their own problems or to help friends or neighbors,'' Brown said.
Brown estimated that 5,000 homes and businesses had been hit and $1 billion in damage had been caused since flooding began Friday.
Texas officials on Sunday said the death toll in the Houston area was up to 17, mainly drowning victims. The flooding caused one death in Louisiana, where rain was still falling Sunday. At least 1,800 people had been flooded out of their homes in East Baton Rouge Parish.
``It's terrible,'' Deyanira Barragan said through tears as she and her 9-month-old daughter fled their flooded apartment complex in Houston.
Theirs was among an estimated 20,000 Houston-area residences inundated by some 3 feet of rain which has fallen since Alison, the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, sloshed ashore in southeast Texas last week.
The rapidly rising waters trapped some people in their cars. A few others were electrocuted. Underground parking lots also were filled with water, and one woman drowned when she went to rescue her car and an elevator opened and water rushed in.
``The loss of property pales compared to human lives,'' Gov. Rick Perry said after flying over the hardest-hit areas. ``This is a tragedy of very large proportion.''
Perry declared 28 counties a state disaster area and President Bush followed with a federal declaration.
Flood watches and warnings finally came down Sunday in Houston and the weather began clearing with little additional rain in the forecast.
Brown said opening roads would be a top priority.
``We're working throughout the night to make it happen,'' Brown said.
Freight moving by land and sea were disrupted. The Coast Guard said the upper part of the Houston Ship Channel was closed after 26 barges and two ships broke free from moorings at the Port of Houston, clogging one of nation's busiest waterways.
At the Harris County Jail, 3,000 inmates had to be moved to other lockups when floods knocked out water and electric service.
There were a wide range of damage estimates, with most officials saying assessments needed to be made once the water subsided.
``If I were to give a guess ... it would top $1 billion,'' Brown said, referring to Houston's damage. ``That would be a guess, but it would suggest we have had a serious problem.''
At least 40 shelters were open, caring for approximately 15,000 people.
``We need to make sure they are clothed, housed, make sure they're taken care of,'' Joe Allbaugh, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said late Sunday. ``It's probably worse than 1994.''
In 1994, the San Jacinto River topped its banks. Flooding left 22,000 Texans homeless, 17 dead and caused $900 million in damage.
Allbaugh hoped the first government assistance checks could be in the hands of flood victims within a couple days.
Tom Milwee, head of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said his agency wanted to ``get people out of those shelters and into temporary housing situations.''
``Weeks is not an issue here,'' Milwee said. ``It should be a matter of days.''