Houston Begins Cleanup After Almost 4 Feet of Rain Falls

By Brian K. Sullivan and Catherine Ngai | September 20, 2019

Imelda’s rains have largely left Houston, but the city and the surrounding region are reeling from the fallout.

Much of the area remains flooded, with homes and businesses damaged, hundreds of abandoned cars left on highways, water systems compromised and at least two people dead. In Jefferson County, just east of Houston, 43.15 inches (109.6 centimeters) fell, said Lara Pagano, a forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The rainstorm is now moving into northeast Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, Pagano said, and will soon begin dissipating. The downpour in the Houston region has been non-stop for three days, reviving memories of Hurricane Harvey’s historic week-long deluge in 2017.

The moisture carried by Imelda from its trip over the Gulf of Mexico has made it “the seventh wettest tropical cyclone in U.S. history and the fourth wettest to impact the state of Texas,” Pagano said.

Interstate 10, a major east-west highway that cuts through the heart of Houston, was closed at the San Jacinto River, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. Multiple barges broke loose from the north side of the river near there and may have caused structural damage to a bridge, Gonzalez said in an alert on twitter.

As of midnight, the department had fielded 407 high-water rescues and were dealing with 323 stranded vehicles.

On Thursday, the rain shut schools, manufacturing plants and tourist sites, along with key oil pipelines and terminals in an area that serves as America’s energy hub. That included Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Beaumont chemical plant, a major processing facility. George Bush International Airport, closed for much of Thursday, is reopening Friday.

The Gulf Coast has been prone to widespread, damaging flooding, with a dozen instances since 2015, according to the Weather Research Center. On Thursday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a “state of disaster” for the region on Thursday, and communities in the region opened emergency centers for people threatened by flooding in their homes.

“The amount of rainfall will rival records set during Hurricane Harvey, which makes this the second 500-year rainfall within two years,” said Chief Executive Officer Joel N. Myers, of AccuWeather Inc.

Damages and economic loss from Imelda could reach $6 billion to $8 billion, based on historic data from the region, Myers said in an email.

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey paralyzed Houston with about 40,000 people forced out of their homes by flooding and 30,000 water rescues occurring during the storm. A record 60.6 inches fell near Nederland, Texas, about 90 miles east of Houston.

Imelda was the ninth named storm this season. The six-month hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30, is in its most active phase, likely lasting through early October.

–With assistance from Barbara Powell, Christopher Martin, Sheela Tobben, Catherine Ngai, David Marino, Robert Tuttle and Jeffrey Bair.

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