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Imelda forces 400 water rescues and strands 300 drivers; barges break loose, hit bridge near Houston

Posted at 1:47 PM, Sep 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-20 13:47:09-04

The weakening remnants of Imelda will make their way Friday into northern Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana as misery lingers in Houston, even as floodwaters start to recede.

Flooding on Thursday left some Houston neighborhoods swimming in several feet of water, forcing authorities to perform more than 400 high-water rescues, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said. There were 323 stranded vehicles and 22 major accidents, the office added.

The chaos continued early Friday, when officials got a report that nine barges had broken away from their moorings on the San Jacinto River, the US Coast Guard said.

At least one barge struck the westbound bridge along Interstate 10, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Danny Perez said.

Officials are assessing the eastbound bridge for damage, with a full assessment planned when water level recede, Perez said.

Both bridges were closed to traffic Friday morning, and vessel movement beneath them remained suspended following strong currents Thursday evening, Perez said.

At least one loose barge is carrying an unknown hazardous substance, Perez said.

There have been at least two storm-related deaths, officials said. A man in his 40s of 50s was pulled Thursday evening from a van submerged in floodwater, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said. The man died after being taken to a hospital.

And in Jefferson County, 19-year-old Hunter Morrison died when he was electrocuted, then drowned, while trying to move his horse, according to a statement from his family posted at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page.

Imelda — the seventh wettest tropical cyclone in US history, per the National Weather Service — dumped more than 15 inches of rain across Harris County. Some areas in neighboring Jefferson County saw a whopping 43 inches of rain.

Parts of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana remain under flash flood watches, the National Weather Service said Friday morning.

Parts of Arkansas will also see periods of heavy rain throughout Friday, with rainfall totals reaching up to 4 inches in some areas, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said.

Neighbors rescue neighbors

More than 200 vehicles had been towed in Houston by Thursday night, as floodwaters began to recede, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

Residents began ditching their cars after heavy flooding made the roadways impassable.

In Beaumont, a city in Jefferson County, neighborhoods turned into lakes and roads looked more like streams. Two overnight shelters were opened, CNN affiliate KPRC reported.

Some neighbors helped each other, with one resident telling the station, “We’re just trying to take care of our people.”

Floodwater poured Thursday morning into Beaumont TV station KBMT, forcing the news staff to move to Houston sister station KHOU to broadcast.

Officials urged residents to get to safety.

“If you are still in an area with standing water, seek higher ground and shelter in place,” Beaumont police said. “Be patients and only call 911 for emergencies.”

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott declared a state of disaster Thursday for 13 counties.

Comparing Imelda to Harvey

Many southeast Texas residents say the storm was similar — and some said worse — than Hurricane Harvey. The Category 4 monster made landfall two years ago in Texas and Louisiana.

That storm broke the US record for rainfall from a single storm, dumping more than 60 inches about 90 miles east of Houston. Harvey left the state in devastation with up to $75 billion in damages.

“I’m tired of it,” Kingwood-area resident Sharai Poteet told CNN affiliate KTRK.

Poteet spent more than $50,000 repairing her home after Harvey, she said, after that storm dropped 27 trillion gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana.

“I don’t understand why we don’t have any drainage out here anymore,” she said this week.

Misty Walton’s apartment in Vidor, Texas, was inundated with water as remnants from Imelda moved through state.

“Harvey was bad, and this is bad, too,” Walton said. “People are not even done rebuilding here, and it’s happening again.”

Her apartment and two cars in the driveway were flooded, she said.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Walton said. “But like always, we pull together, and we find a way.”