Houston area sees relief, rescues after Imelda leaves four dead

HOUSTON (AP) – Emergency workers used boats yesterday to rescue about 60 residents of a Houston-area community still trapped in their homes by floodwaters following one of the wettest tropical cyclones in United States (US) history.

At least four deaths have been linked to the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda, which deluged parts of Texas and Louisiana and drew comparisons to Hurricane Harvey two years ago. Officials took advantage of receding floodwaters to begin assessing how many homes and cars were flooded.

Almost 16 feet of standing water was reported in Huffman, northeast of Houston, when a nearby bayou overflowed. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office deployed its marine unit to evacuate the around 60 residents. Officials have warned residents they might not see high waters recede in their neighbourhoods until the weekend.

Tuesday Martin, one of the residents in Huffman who was rescued, couldn’t help but think of Harvey when Imelda’s floodwaters rushed into her home. “Harvey affected us. We lost the whole first floor,” Martin said. “So, it’s like two years later, we do not want to go through this again.”

East of Houston in Jefferson County, which got hit by more than 40 inches of rain, officials also began taking stock of their damage. They also announced the death of Malcolm Foster, a 47-year-old Beaumont resident whose body was found inside his vehicle.

Stephen Gilbert paddles in front of his family’s flooded property in Mauriceville area. PHOTO: AP

The heaviest rainfall had ended by Thursday night in Southeast Texas, but forecasters warned that parts of northeast Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana could see flash flooding as Imelda’s remnants shifted to the north.

Officials in Harris County, which includes Houston, said there had been a combination of at least 1,700 high-water rescues following Thursday’s torrential rainfall.

“The water is getting lower and it’s time for assessment and to move into recovery,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top administrator.

Most of the Houston-area roads that became water-logged after heavy rainfall on Thursday and resulted in more than 1,650 vehicles being abandoned and later towed were mostly dry on Friday.

But parts of one of the major thoroughfares that passes through Southeast Texas – Interstate 10 – remained closed on Friday due to flood waters from torrential rain in the Beaumont area. Another freeway section, closer to Houston, was also shut down as officials assessed damage to its bridges over the San Jacinto River after they were hit by two barges that broke free of their moorings.

Nearly 123,000 vehicles normally cross the bridges each day, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

More than 900 flights were cancelled or delayed in Houston on Thursday. Airports in the city resumed operating normally on Friday.

Officials said two of the deaths from Imelda happened in the Houston area: an unidentified man in his 40s or 50s who drowned on Thursday while driving a van through eight-foot-deep floodwaters, and a man whose body was found in a ditch who is believed to have drowned.

In Jefferson County, besides Foster’s death, officials say a 19-year-old man drowned and was electrocuted on Thursday while trying to move his horse to safety.

The National Weather Service said preliminary estimates suggested Jefferson County was hit with more than 40 inches of rain in a span of just 72 hours, which would make it the seventh-wettest tropical cyclone to hit the continental US.