BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — The remnants of Tropical Depression Imelda unleashed torrential rain Thursday in parts of Texas and Louisiana, prompting hundreds of water rescues, a hospital evacuation and road closures as the powerful storm system drew comparisons to Hurricane Harvey two years ago.
Although the amount of predicted rainfall is massive — forecasters say some places could see 40 inches (100 centimeters) or more this week — Imelda's deluge is largely targeting areas east of Houston, including the small town of Winnie and the city of Beaumont.
Still, the Houston area faced heavy rains Thursday, leading forecasters to issue a flash flood emergency through midday Thursday for Harris County. In that area, forecasters said 3 to 5 inches (7.5 centimeters to 12.5 centimeters) of rain is possible per hour.
Sylvester Turner, the mayor of Houston — the fourth-largest city in the U.S. — joined other Texas officials in urging drivers to stay off the roads.
Imelda is the first named storm to impact the Houston area since Harvey hovered for days in August 2017 and inundated the flood-prone Gulf Coast. The storm dumped more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water on the town of Nederland, Texas, near the Louisiana border.
No reports of deaths or injuries related to the storm were immediately reported Thursday.
East of Houston, some local officials said the rainfall was causing flooding worse than what happened during Harvey. In Winnie, a town of about 3,200 people 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of Houston, a hospital was evacuated and water was inundating several homes and businesses.
"It's as bad as I've ever seen it. Right now I'm in an absolute deluge of rain," Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said Thursday morning as he took cover under a carport at an auto dealership in Winnie. The town "looks like a lake."
Hawthorne said emergency workers rescued about 200 people overnight, and that an additional 50 households were on a waiting list to be rescued Thursday morning. Hawthorne said some residents were up on their roofs because of rising floodwaters.
Airboats from the sheriff's office and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department were helping with the rescues, along with high-water vehicles, Hawthorne said.
"Right now, as a Texas sheriff, the only thing that I really want is for people to pray that it will quit raining," he added.
Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Sarah Dupre said officials do not know exactly how many people were stranded in their cars on a more-than-25-mile-stretch of Interstate 10 that was closed between Winnie and Beaumont. Louisiana officials also closed a portion of Interstate 10 heading west into Texas.
Dupre said the department was currently working with local law enforcement on a plan to get people off the roadway.
In Beaumont, a city of just under 120,000 people about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the Gulf of Mexico, authorities said all service roads were impassable and two hospitals were inaccessible, the Beaumont Enterprise reported. Beaumont police said on Twitter that 911 had received requests for more than 250 high water rescues and 270 evacuations.
"It's bad. Homes that did not flood in Harvey are flooding now," said Jeff Branick, a presiding official with the title of county judge for Jefferson County, which includes Beaumont.
During Harvey, Beaumont's only pump station was swamped by floodwaters, leaving residents without water service for more than a week.
The Jefferson County sheriff's office said in a Facebook post that residents of an area where a levy was deteriorating should use their boats to pick up neighbors and carry them to safety.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for several counties, saying "life-threatening amounts of rainfall" have fallen and more was expected Thursday. Imelda's center was about 110 miles (180 kilometers) north of Houston early Thursday and was moving north-northwest at 5 mph (7 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center.
Heavy rainfall occurred Wednesday in many areas. Thunderstorms spawned several weak tornadoes in the Baytown area, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Houston, damaging trees, barns and sheds and causing minor damage to some homes and vehicles.
Coastal counties, including Brazoria, Matagorda and Galveston, were hit hard by rainfall through Wednesday. Sargent, a town of about 2,700 residents in Matagorda County, had received nearly 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain since Tuesday.
Karen Romero, who lives with her husband in Sargent, said it was the most rain she had had in her neighborhood in her nine years living there.
"The rain (Tuesday) night was just massive sheets of rain and lightning storms," said Romero, 57.
She said her home, located along a creek, was not in danger of flooding as it sits on stilts, like many others nearby.
In the Houston area, the rainfall flooded some roadways Wednesday, stranding drivers, and caused several creeks and bayous to rise.
The National Hurricane Center said Imelda weakened to a tropical depression after making landfall as a tropical storm Tuesday near Freeport, Texas, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (64 kph).
The flooding from Imelda came as Hurricane Humberto blew off rooftops and toppled trees in the British Atlantic island of Bermuda, and Hurricane Jerry was expected to move to the northern Leeward Islands on Friday and north of Puerto Rico on Saturday.
Remnants of Tropical Depression Imelda will continue dropping heavy patches of rain across the area into Thursday as it continues to weaken and move into East Texas.
Localized street flooding and intense rainfall is still possible, but the National Weather Service says most areas can handle additional rainfall.
While area schools closed Wednesday in anticipation of severe weather, Imelda’s heavy rains didn’t cause widespread problems.
As expected, the storm intensified again late in the day Wednesday, but the forecast was for today’s weather to largely avoid thunderstorms and be a mix of showers and heavy rain.
A tornado was reportedly sighted near Goose Creek Memorial High School about 5 p.m. Wednesday, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a tornado warning for the area. The tornado, spotted near Cove, was listed as an EF-0 tornado and touched down near the intersection of Barbers Hill and Haney Roads around 6:05 p.m. according to the NWS. At 7:06 p.m. a tornado moving at 15 miles per hour was seen on the eastern side of Baytown near Goose Creek Memorial High School. No injuries or severe damage were immediately reported.
Despite the downpour Wednesday, the streets largely remained usable.
Baytown city spokesman Mark Miller said the intersection of Highway 99 and Business 146 was closed for a few hours, but no other major streets or intersections were closed.
Baytown police spokesman Lt. Steve Dorris said there were some traffic accidents that appeared to be weather-related, but no reported serious injuries or long-term traffic tie-ups.
The Associated Press reported that some areas of Southeast Texas received up to 12 inches of rain, with the heaviest impacts in the coastal counties. Galveston County reported up to 10 inches of rain in some areas, but the Houston area avoided major disruption.
Harris County flood gauges in Baytown and Mont Belvieu reported two-day rainfall totals ranging from a low of 4.24 inches where Highway 146 crosses Goose Creek to a high of 5.12 inches where Highway 146 crosses Cedar Bayou.