The remnants of tropical depression Imelda unleashed torrential rain Thursday in parts of Texas, 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 100 centimetres 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 7.5 centimetres to 12.5 centimetres of rain is possible per hour.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Airport officials reported a full ground stop Thursday morning, meaning no flights landing or departing, with flooding on some roads leading to the airport in far north Houston.
The flight tracking service FlightAware reported nearly 200 flights cancelled Thursday at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, with more than 300 other flights delayed.
1140am Radar Update: Heavy rain is making its way through Houston with rain rates of 1 to 3 inches an hour. Please remain off the roads if possible. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/HOUwx?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#HOUwx</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/TXwx?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#TXwx</a> <a href=”https://t.co/VcPEVXXQVm”>pic.twitter.com/VcPEVXXQVm</a>
Airport spokesperson Saba Abashawl said some inbound flights were diverted to William P. Hobby Airport, on the south side of Houston.
Imelda is the first named storm to impact the Houston area since Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 130 centimetres of rain on parts of the flood-prone city in August 2017.
No reports of deaths or injuries related to the storm were immediately reported Thursday.
‘It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it’
East of Houston, some local officials said the rainfall was causing flooding worse than what happened during Hurricane Harvey. In Winnie, a town of about 3,200 people 95 kilometres east of Houston, a hospital was evacuated and water was inundating several homes and businesses.
“What I’m sitting in right now makes Harvey look like a little thunderstorm,” Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told Houston TV station KTRK.
Hawthorne told The Associated Press that emergency workers rescued about 200 people overnight, and that an additional 50 households were on a waiting list to be rescued Thursday morning. He said airboats from the sheriff’s office and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department were helping with the rescues, along with high-water vehicles.
“It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it. Right now, I’m in an absolute deluge of rain,” Hawthorne told the AP on Thursday morning as he took cover under a carport at an auto dealership in Winnie. The town “looks like a lake.”
“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.
Part of Interstate 10, between Winnie and Beaumont, was shut down as a result of the storm, stranding some drivers on the roadway.
Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson Sarah Dupre says officials do not know exactly how many people are stranded in their cars on Interstate 10. Dupre said the department is currently working with local law enforcement on a plan to get those people off the roadway.
In Beaumont, a city of just under 120,000 people about 50 kilometres 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 has 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,” Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said. During Harvey, Beaumont’s only pump station was swamped by floodwaters, leaving residents without water service for more than a week.
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 centre was about 180 kilometres north of Houston early Thursday and was moving north-northwest at 7 km/h, according to the National Hurricane Center.
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 64 km/h.