HOUSTON - Rain from Tropical Depression Imelda deluged parts of Texas and Louisiana on Thursday, prompting hundreds of water rescues, a hospital evacuation and road closures in areas east of Houston that were hit hard by Hurricane Harvey two years ago.
Forecasters warned that Imelda could bring up to 35 inches (90 centimeters) of rain in some areas of Texas through Friday. The storm system also brought the risk of severe weather and prompted tornado warnings Thursday morning in the areas hit hardest by flooding.
No reports of deaths or injuries related to the storm were immediately reported Thursday. Near Houston, a flash flood warning was issued through midday, but the city itself has been spared from the heaviest rainfall.
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 (95 kilometers) east of Houston, a hospital was evacuated and water was inundating several homes and businesses.
"What I'm sitting in right now makes Harvey look like a little thunderstorm," Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told Houston TV station KTRK.
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."
"Right now, as a Texas sheriff, the only thing that I really want is for people to pray that it will quit raining," he added.
In Beaumont, a city of just under 120,000 people that's about 30 miles (50 kilometers) 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 (180 kilometers) north of Houston early Thursday and was moving north-northwest at 5 mph (7 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center.
Heavy rainfall occurred Wednesday in many areas. Thunderstorms spawned several weak tornadoes in the Baytown area, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Houston, damaging trees, barns and sheds and causing minor damage to some homes and vehicles.
Coastal counties, including Brazoria, Matagorda and Galveston, were hit hard by rainfall through Wednesday. Sargent, a town of about 2,700 residents in Matagorda County, had received nearly 20 inches (50 centimeters) 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 (64 kph).
The weather service said Imelda is the first named storm to impact the Houston area since Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 50 inches (130 centimeters) of rain on parts of the flood-prone city in August 2017.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70
Associated Press writers Diana Heidgerd in Dallas and Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.