The storm, which passed over Houston on Wednesday, slammed the area around Beaumont, Tex., overnight, adding to rainfall totals that are among the highest the region has faced since Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
“It’s bad,” Judge Jeff Branick of Jefferson County told The Beaumont Enterprise. “Homes that did not flood in Harvey are flooding now.”
In Beaumont, a city of about 120,000 that flooded with nearly three feet of water during Harvey, drivers were stuck in their cars, surrounded by water, and a television station reporting on the storm had to evacuate after water started pouring into the station. The Police Department said that it was overwhelmed with calls on Thursday morning, with nearly 600 requests for assistance as of 8 a.m.
About 25 miles away, in Winnie, Tex., water levels reached several feet and some panicked residents were struggling to get through to 911, forcing them to resort to email instead. A flooded hospital evacuated some patients, but stayed open, as employees trudged barefoot across the sopping floor in order to treat those who remained.
Imelda is the first named storm to hit the region since Harvey, which caused widespread devastation when it stalled as a tropical storm over the Houston area and dumped more than 50 inches of rain. While Houston was perhaps the hardest hit then, Beaumont also suffered deadly flooding that shut off running water and nearly turned the city into an island. The toll from Harvey remained fresh in the region’s memory on Thursday, and as waters rose, some feared that Imelda could be even worse.
“What I’m sitting in right now makes Harvey look like a little thunderstorm,” Sheriff Brian Hawthorne of Chambers County told ABC13 in Houston. “It’s dire out here. I’m fearful for this community right now.”
Imelda had already soaked parts of the Texas coast, including the town of Sargent, Tex., where floodwaters rose this week. On Thursday morning, rain was falling up to four inches per hour in the Houston area, according to the National Weather Service.
The Beaumont area had been pummeled with 10 to 20 inches of rain, and up to 35 inches in some places. As flooding inundated roads and forced officials to travel by boat, there seemed little chance of reprieve, with as much as 10 more inches expected to fall Thursday morning.
“There is catastrophic flooding in the whole area,” said Joe Rua, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, adding that “this would probably be the biggest rain event since Harvey.”