“What I’m sitting in right now makes Harvey look like a little thunderstorm,” Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told KTRK, an ABC affiliate in Houston.
Imelda, which developed quickly and made landfall Tuesday near Freeport, Tex., soaked the region with as much as three feet of rain. The National Weather Service declared a flash flood emergency for parts of five counties in the southeastern area of the state, calling it a “PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION” and urging residents to “SEEK HIGHER GROUND NOW!”
In Houston, a man between the ages of 40 and 50 died after being transported from a submerged van to a hospital in critical condition, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said. Officials extracted several people from the vehicle, according to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.
Earlier in the day, a 19-year-old man suffered an electric shock and drowned, according to a statement from the family of Hunter Morrison that was shared online by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office did not immediately provide further information.
“Right now my family and I are going through one of the most horrific times in our lives with losing Hunter,” the family statement read, saying Morrison, of Beaumont, died while trying to move his horse.
The storm upended the lives of residents such as John Smith, who had packed everything he and his wife owned into a 17-foot trailer this week, ready to hit the road for their new home in Florida.
Around 5:30 Thursday morning, Smith and his wife woke up to see water rising along their street in the Southeast Texas city of Nederland. Over the next six hours, Smith watched anxiously as water from his flooded street inched closer to the couple’s house — and the trailer containing all of their worldly possessions.
“We flooded here during Harvey and I had to completely redo my whole house,” Smith told The Washington Post. “So you can just imagine what’s going through my mind at 7 o’clock this morning when water was knocking at the door. It was literally half an inch from coming into the house.”
For Craig Mullenix, the flooding that forced his family out of their northeast Houston home was a first. Mullenix, his wife and their two children waded through chest-deep water to reach a police boat, holding their two dogs and cats in cages over their heads.
They eventually made it to a community center-turned-makeshift shelter, where Mullenix held a wiggling wet puppy amid dozens of other drenched people taking refuge.
“We didn’t flood through Harvey or through the last storm,” 53-year-old Mullenix said. “It didn’t flood for Ike, didn’t flood for Alison, which was in 2001. … But we flood now.”
As authorities raced to respond to the crush of calls for help Thursday, the National Weather Service said an additional six to 12 inches of rain could fall in some areas. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office — which has jurisdiction over Houston — said that as of noon dispatchers had received more than 300 weather-related calls, including 133 involving rescues from high water. Photos showed waist-high water in the city of Aldine, where officials retrieved employees and nine children from a day care, according to Gonzalez.
Classes were canceled Friday in the Hardin-Jefferson Independent School District, while school officials in Houston canceled Thursday after-school activities.
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport has closed, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and is expected to reopen Friday afternoon. Flooding on the roads surrounding the facility Thursday forced the delay or cancellation of hundreds of flights, and no arrivals were allowed, according to statements from the airport. Drivers sat stranded along the usually bustling Interstate 10 between the cities of Beaumont and Winnie.
Patients were evacuated from a medical center in Winnie, where officials estimated to local media that 20 percent of the town’s 2,500 residents had water in their houses.
Television footage showed nearly submerged cars and tumultuous rescue efforts from flooded streets. The Houston Fire Department transported three people with “minor injuries” after the roof of a Houston post office building collapsed.
Evacuations were ordered in parts of Jefferson and Hardin counties. In Beaumont, a city of about 120,000, police asked for patience as authorities tried to manage nearly 600 calls for service. They asked residents to stay off the roads, noting that “more people lose their life during flooding events by leaving a safe location (which may be taking on water) and driving into flooded streets.” First responders were focusing on emergency situations.
“We’re in strict lifesaving mode right now,” Beaumont police spokeswoman Carol Riley told the Beaumont Enterprise.
The storm caused widespread power outages, with poweroutage.us indicating that close to 75,000 customers lacked electricity Thursday afternoon.
Imelda is the first named storm to strike the area since 2017, when Harvey dropped a historic 60 inches of rainfall, causing catastrophic flooding. The hurricane caused at least 68 deaths and became the second-most-expensive hurricane in U.S. history, after Katrina.
Ashley Hale’s childhood home in the Houston neighborhood of Kingwood didn’t flood during Harvey. But it did Thursday — for the second time this year. In May, an unusually strong storm caused $30,000 worth of damage to the house, where Hale’s 71-year-old father has lived for more than three decades.
“He’s uncontrollably hysterical,” she said. “I can’t even really talk to him.”
Dallas Thomas was also reeling Thursday as he learned from a Facebook post that Morrison, a former member of his youth worship group, had died in the devastation.
Thomas remembers Morrison as the kind and funny boy he tried to enlist several years ago in the band at a Lumberton, Tex., church where he used to work. Morrison played the drums, and Thomas was eager to recruit his talent.
Morrison turned him down repeatedly. But Thomas learned after moving away that the teen later relented and joined.
“He ended up being one of their really committed musicians,” he said.
The scene after Tropical Storm Imelda unleashed dangerous flooding on Texas