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Flooding from Imelda turns deadly in Texas as rainfall totals approach 4 feet

By Kevin Bryne, Accuweather.com & UPI Staff

Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Imelda continues to unload widespread flooding across southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana with over 40 inches of rain falling in several communities. The catastrophic flooding is bringing back unwanted memories of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the region back in 2017.

Hundreds of water rescues have been performed across the region with the worst of the flooding taking place near Beaumont, Texas, located east of Houston.

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At least two fatalities have been reported in Texas amid the widespread flooding. The first happened in Jefferson County when a person drowned while trying to move a horse to safety. The second occurred in Harris County after a vehicle with several occupants became submerged while attempting to drive through a flooded road.

Authorities have urged residents to shelter in place and seek higher ground if possible. However, despite the warnings, there have been over 300 high-water rescues, many of which took place after people attempted to drive through floodwaters.

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Harris County Sheriff's Office said it had fielded 992 weather-related calls, including 407 for high-water rescues, 22 for major accidents and 323 for stranded vehicles.

"It's been a long and challenging day," said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez via Twitter.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for 13 counties that were experiencing flooding. Abbott also declared a state of emergency to give counties access to state resources as they respond to the flooding.

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"The state of Texas is working closely with local officials and emergency personnel to provide the resources they need to keep Texans safe from Tropical Storm Imelda," Abbott said in a statement. "I thank our first responders who are acting swiftly to help the communities that are facing this severe weather event. I urge all those in the path of this storm to take the necessary precautions and heed all warnings from local officials."

By Thursday evening, several locations had already been inundated with feet of rain, including multiple communities topped the 40-inch mark. The highest rainfall report through 7 p.m. local time Thursday was 43.35 inches at Taylor's Bayou in Port Arthur, Texas. Texas Greens Bayou, northeast of Houston, recorded 9.68 inches in 3 hours during the middle of the day Thursday.

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AccuWeather meteorologists are projecting an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 55 inches.

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While Houston initially avoided the heaviest rainfall from Imelda, heavier bands of rain began shifting southward over the city as of late Thursday morning, and Bayous were rising rapidly, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

On Thursday afternoon, a very heavy rain band east of Houston continued to drop copious rainfall amounts of 3 to 4 inches per hour, adding to the significant and even major flooding that is ongoing, forecasters said.

Imelda first came to life on Tuesday as a tropical depression before it rapidly grew into a short-lived tropical storm.

Following landfall in Freeport, Texas, the storm crept inland and began to trigger a deluge that is now in its second day. Forecasters say the threats of flooding will spread northward toward the Arklatex region on Friday. Lingering downpours along the southeast Texas coast can further delay the recession of floodwaters.

The flooding rain has resulted in an increase in power outages and travel shutdowns. More than 70,000 were without power and flights were grounded at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport. Interstate 10 was shut down in both directions near Fannett while access to I-10 was also limited near Beaumont as many access roads were flooded.

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In Vidor and Winnie, officials interviewed by separate media outlets both spoke of the dangerous waters and the severity being worse than Harvey in 2017.

Vidor, Texas, Police Chief Rod Carroll told KFDM News that the situation in town was "catastrophic" and the flooding in town was worse than Harvey.

Videos on social media Thursday showed numerous water rescues being carried out by airboats, including some by the Texas Game Warden.

The Beaumont Police Department urged residents to seek shelter and move to higher ground Thursday morning as many access roads were flooded around town. Officials said that rescues and evacuation requests were being prioritized.

As flooding overwhelmed many access roads, access to Interstate 10 and Highway 69 from Beaumont became "extremely limited," the police department said. The City of Beaumont has closed non-essential offices for Thursday.

Lamar University said it was closing its campus on Thursday and urged students and faculty to stay off the roads and avoid areas with standing water.

Beaumont received nearly 2 inches of rain in one hour on Wednesday night and has picked up near 18 inches of rain since Wednesday morning.

Farther south, Chambers County Emergency Management said significant flooding was occurring in Winnie, with water coming into homes and businesses. Riceland Hospital has been evacuated, and a flood shelter has been opened at White's Park Community Center.

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The Chambers County Sheriff's Office said the community of Winnie was "devastated" by rising water and high water rescue vehicles and airboats had been deployed.

In an interview with ABC News, Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said the flooding in Winnie was "absolutely horrible" and homes and businesses that never got water during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 have been overwhelmed by flooding.

Elsewhere in Beaumont, the dual ABC/NBC affiliate,12 News, was forced to evacuate Thursday morning due to the rising floodwaters. The station said on its Facebook page that news anchors would broadcast from their sister station KHOU 11 out of Houston.

Imelda could be responsible for a few tornadoes that spun up in Chambers and Harris counties on Wednesday. Beaumont was under a tornado warning for a time early Thursday morning, but there have been no initial reports of a confirmed tornado.

What's left of Imelda will dissipate by Friday, but the threat of ongoing flooding will persist across eastern Texas through the weekend as rivers and streams continue to rise.

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