The waves on the interstate, on the other hand, are very real.
On Tuesday, an image emerged of a surreal sight along a portion of Interstate 10 in Southeast Texas: Floodwaters of untold depth had overtaken concrete. Wind-driven waves, complete with whitecaps, appeared on the surface of the water. A dorsal fin would have looked less out of place in the photo than a vehicle.
Texas state representative Dade Phelan was among those who shared the image on social media, where it went viral.
— Dade Phelan (@DadePhelan) August 30, 2017
According to Phelan’s caption, the photo was taken on I-10 near the border of Jefferson and Chambers counties, about 65 miles east of downtown Houston. The section of freeway there is nearly level with the surrounding gulf plain, which has been inundated with Harvey’s rainfall.
Before long, the National Weather Service in Houston had also retweeted the photo from Phelan, whose district includes part of Jefferson County.
So, too, had the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore.
— Dade Phelan (@DadePhelan) August 30, 2017
A corresponding video, reportedly taken near Winnie, Tex., about 65 miles east of Houston, showed someone navigating a motorboat through the choppy waters that covered the interstate.
Logan Wheat, the owner of the viral photo and the video footage, did not immediately respond to an interview request Wednesday.
It’s unclear exactly where or at what angles the images were taken. Many speculated the photo itself showed a feeder road to Interstate 10 and not the highway itself.
While state transportation officials said they couldn’t verify details about the viral images, they could confirm that large portions of I-10 were flooded out.
“Yesterday we did have an engineer a little bit further west on that section and he FaceTimed us, and there were waves,” Sarah Dupre, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Transportation’s Beaumont district, told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “It looks like waves. I do not doubt that there were waves, or what looked like waves, in that section of I-10.”
The stretch of the interstate between Winnie and Beaumont, about 80 miles east of Houston, has been closed since Monday.
Video taken then showed about a foot of water washing over the highway.
— TxDOT-Beaumont (@TxDOTBeaumont) August 29, 2017
It’s unclear how much more water the interstate has taken on since, because it has been completely inaccessible, Dupre said. The westbound lanes have taken the brunt of the water, she added.
The only time Dupre said she could remember sections of I-10 flooding near Beaumont was during Hurricane Ike, in 2008.
Even then, she said, the water “went right back out.”
“We have never had conditions like this in I-10 to my knowledge,” she told The Post. “It’s completely unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Harvey is now considered the most extreme rain event in U.S. history, dumping over 50 inches in the greater Houston area. Rain is forecast to continue in Beaumont and Port Arthur, as the storm shifted east and again made landfall in Louisiana on Wednesday morning.
Between Beaumont and roughly Lufkin, an extraordinary 8 to 15 inches fell Tuesday afternoon alone, bringing storm totals in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area to around 35 inches. Torrential rains continued Tuesday evening prompting the Weather Service to issue a flash flood emergency into Tuesday night — its most severe flood alert. Rainfall rates were as high as three inches per hour and another 4 to 8 inches or more could fall overnight.
On Wednesday morning, Louisiana emergency officials shut down another portion of Interstate 10, near the Texas state line.
“Travel in SE TX strongly discouraged,” the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness tweeted.
As Harvey’s destruction began to come into focus, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Wednesday announced the approval of $25 million in emergency relief funds for Texas to begin repairs on flood-damaged roads and bridges.
“I have mobilized the Department of Transportation to provide whatever assistance Texas requires to restore the state’s transportation systems,” Chao said in a statement. “The funding provided today will help the state to act immediately and represents the beginning of our commitment to help repair Texas’ affected infrastructure.”
Dupre, of the Texas Department of Transportation, said crews have been working around the clock to monitor other roadways. However, the stretch of I-10 between Beaumont and Winnie will probably be closed for the foreseeable future, she said.
“Right now there is absolutely no date or time as to when I-10 will reopen,” she said. “Even when the water drains off, we have to make sure the roadway is safe. Water can do a lot of damage, so we have to make sure all the bridges are safe, we have to make sure the pavement is safe. … I-10 is our top priority. We want to get the interstate reopened as soon as we can.”