Texas Cities Try To Assess Scope Of Damage In Imelda's Aftermath

Sep 20, 2019
Originally published on September 21, 2019 3:51 pm

Updated at 5:52 p.m. ET

Flood waters are slowly beginning to recede, but large areas of southeast Texas remain flooded Friday. Emergency crews continue to perform rescues from water-soaked neighborhoods. And officials work to get a broader sense of the damage left by Tropical Depression Imelda, a catastrophic weather event that swamped hundreds of cars and homes, and has claimed the lives of at least four people.

The city of Beaumont in a statement Friday says a 47-year-old man was found inside a Toyota Prius in a canal along the 3800 block of Interstate 10 near Walden Road.

"A deceased person was located inside the vehicle. Texas Task Force 1 is part of The City of Beaumont's Emergency Operations Center rescue team and works directly with our command center. The victim was identified as Malcolm Foster, a 47 year old Beaumont man. His family has been notified."

Officials in Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, say preliminary indications point to another Imelda-linked death of another man, last seen walking in the storm Thursday.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted Friday deputies discovered "a deceased male was found in a ditch."

Other fatalities include an unidentified man in his 40s or 50s who died Thursday attempting to drive his vehicle through 8-feet-deep floodwaters near Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport. A 19-year old man named Hunter Morrison was electrocuted and drowned while trying to move his horse, according to a family statement shared by the Jefferson County's Sheriff's Office.

"Right now my family and I are going through one of the most horrific times in our lives with losing Hunter," the family message said.

The storm has dropped massive amounts of rain, drawing comparisons to the devastation wreaked in the same area by Hurricane Harvey two years ago.

In a tweet, the National Weather Service said the rainfall in Houston and Galveston on Thursday was "one for the record books." It said Galveston had gotten 17.77 inches of rain just in the past four days.

Some areas saw as much as 20 to 40 inches of rain — North Fork Taylors Bayou near Port Arthur, Texas, topped more than 43 inches of rain as of Friday morning.

"The PRELIMINARY highest storm total rainfall amount of 43.15 inches in Jefferson County, TX would make #Imelda the 7th wettest tropical cyclone in United States history as well as the 4th wettest tropical cyclone ever to impact the state of Texas," the National Weather Service in Houston tweeted.

While Imelda has dissipated, national forecasters say remnants will still continue to dump heavy rain and possible flash flooding in places as far away as the Texas-Arkansas-Louisiana border.

Authorities are grappling with just how much destruction the storm caused.

In this photo provided by the Chambers County Sheriff's Office, floodwaters surround a home in Winnie, Texas, after Imelda raked the area.
Brian Hawthorne / AP

"The damage assessments are going on," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tells NPR's Here & Now. "I know in the city itself [Houston], we're going to have upwards of 200 structures [destroyed], which compared to Harvey is negligible. But as we spread out from the the city of Houston and go east ... to Beaumont, that count is going to be much much higher."

The U.S. Coast Guard says surging currents caused nine barges to break away from their moorings in the San Jacinto River. At least two barges crashed into a bridge over the river, shutting down a major east-west highway just east of Houston.

"The bridge is off limits until highway officials determine the bridge is safe for traffic," Joseph Leahy of member station KUT reports. "Several other stretches of [Interstate-10] and other local highways are impassable this morning due to flooding. Flash flood warnings remain in effect across the region as high water from the storm moves downstream."

The Houston Fire Department says its crews performed more than 900 water rescues on Thursday and were dispatched to nearly 1,800 emergency calls. Harris County officials report 365 vehicles were stranded throughout the county as of Friday.

The U.S. Coast Guard tweeted out Friday a short video of people being helped off a helicopter, adding that crews in Houston and New Orleans have "completed multiple medevacs and rescues"

"USGC Air Station Houston and Air Station New Orleans have completed multiple medevacs and rescues in the Beaumont area due to flooding caused by Tropical Depression #Imelda," it said.

People in Houston navigate the floodwaters on Thursday. The city got more than 9 inches of rain on that day alone, according to the National Weather Service in Houston.
Thomas B. Shea / Getty Images

Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches on the Houston area in 2017. Byron Balentine, a station manager with member station KVLU in Beaumont told NPR that there were similarities between Harvey and Imelda, but that more recent storm developed quicker than many were expecting.

"This almost was like Harvey, except for the fact we kind of saw Harvey coming," Balentine says. "Then more rain dropped on us [with Imelda] than we could have possibly imagined. It caught us all off guard."

Bruce Shoemaker, a sand contractor from Nome, Texas agrees.

Speaking to Texas Standard reporter Michael Marks Friday while pumping water away from his company's materials, Shoemaker says it's just part of living in this part of Texas.

"You go to west Texas you got the heat, the snakes ... the droughts," Shoemaker says.

"It's home," he says "You know we live with it. It's southeast Texas."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.