HOUSTON — Rain from Tropical Depression Imelda deluged parts of Texas and Louisiana on Thursday, prompting hundreds of water rescues, a hospital evacuation and road closures in areas east of Houston that were hit hard by Hurricane Harvey two years ago.
Forecasters warned that Imelda could bring up to 35 inches of rain this week in some areas of Texas through Friday. The storm system also brought the risk of severe weather and prompted tornado warnings Thursday morning in the areas hit hardest by the flooding.
No reports of deaths or injuries related to the storm were immediately reported Thursday. In Houston, a flash flood watch remained in effect until 7 p.m. Thursday but the city itself has been spared from the heaviest rainfall.
The worst of the flooding is east of Houston, and some local officials said the rainfall Thursday is causing flooding worse than what happened during Hurricane Harvey.
In Winnie, a town of about 3,200 people located 60 miles east of Houston, a hospital was evacuated and water is inundating several homes and businesses. The Chambers County Sheriff’s Office said Winnie is “being devastated by rising water” and water rescues are ongoing.
"What I'm sitting in right now makes Harvey look like a little thunderstorm," Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told Houston TV station KTRK .
In Beaumont, a city of just under 120,000 people that’s located about 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, authorities said all service roads are impassable and two local hospitals are inaccessible, the Beaumont Enterprise reported. The Beaumont Police Department 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 is expected in the area Thursday. Imelda’s center was located about 110 miles north of Houston early Thursday and was moving north-northwest at 5 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Heavy rainfall occurred Wednesday in many areas and spawned several weak tornadoes in the Baytown area, about 25 miles 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 of rain since Tuesday.
Karen Romero, who lives with her husband in Sargent, said Wednesday this was the most rain she has 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 to high levels.
The National Hurricane Center said Imelda weakened to a tropical depression after making landfall Tuesday near Freeport, Texas, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.
The weather service said Imelda is the first named storm to impact the Houston area since Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 50 inches of rain on parts of the flood-prone city in August 2017, flooding more than 150,000 homes in the Houston area and causing an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas.