‘It’s bad’: Water rescues begin as Imelda soaks East Texas

HOUSTON (AP) — The remnants of Tropical Depression Imelda unleashed torrential rain Thursday in parts of Texas, prompting hundreds of water rescues, a hospital evacuation and road closures as the powerful storm system drew comparisons to Hurricane Harvey two years ago.

Although amount of predicted rainfall is massive — forecasters say some places could see 40 inches or more this week — Imelda's deluge is largely targeting areas east of Houston, including the small town of Winnie and the city of Beaumont.

Still, the Houston area faced heavy rains Thursday, leading forecasters to issue a flash flood emergency through midday Thursday for Harris County. In that area, forecasters said 3 to 5 inches of rain is possible per hour.

Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told The Associated Press that emergency workers rescued about 200 people overnight, and that an additional 50 households were on a waiting list to be rescued Thursday morning.

He said airboats from the sheriff's office and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department were helping with the rescues, along with high-water vehicles.

"It's as bad as I've ever seen it. Right now I'm in an absolute deluge of rain," Hawthorne told the AP on Thursday morning as he took cover under a carport at an auto dealership in Winnie. The town "looks like a lake."

Imelda is the first named storm to impact the Houston area since Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 50 inches of rain on parts of the flood-prone city in August 2017.

No reports of deaths or injuries related to the storm were immediately reported Thursday.

East of Houston, some local officials said the rainfall was causing flooding worse than what happened during Hurricane Harvey. In Winnie, a town of about 3,200 people 60 miles east of Houston, a hospital was evacuated and water was inundating several homes and businesses.

In Beaumont, a city of just under 120,000 people about 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, authorities said all service roads were impassable and two hospitals were inaccessible, the Beaumont Enterprise reported.

Beaumont police said on Twitter that 911 has received requests for more than 250 high water rescues and 270 evacuations.

"It's bad. Homes that did not flood in Harvey are flooding now," Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said. During Harvey, Beaumont's only pump station was swamped by floodwaters, leaving residents without water service for more than a week.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for several counties, saying "life-threatening amounts of rainfall" have fallen and more was expected Thursday. Imelda's center was about 110 miles north of Houston early Thursday and was moving north-northwest at 5 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

"Right now, as a Texas sheriff, the only thing that I really want is for people to pray that it will quit raining," Hawthorne said.

Sargent, a town of about 2,700 residents in Matagorda County, had received nearly 20 inches of rain since Tuesday.

Karen Romero, who lives with her husband in Sargent, said it was the most rain she had had in her neighborhood in her nine years living there.

"The rain (Tuesday) night was just massive sheets of rain and lightning storms," said Romero, 57.

She said her home, located along a creek, was not in danger of flooding as it sits on stilts, like many others nearby.

In the Houston area, the rainfall flooded some roadways Wednesday, stranding drivers, and caused several creeks and bayous to rise.

The National Hurricane Center said Imelda weakened to a tropical depression after making landfall as a tropical storm Tuesday near Freeport, Texas, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.

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