HOUSTON (CN) — Tropical Depression Imelda gave Houston a needed reprieve Thursday night after a chaotic day that saw first responders rescuing hundreds of drivers stranded by floodwaters.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Thursday night there were around 200 cars still stuck on roads, and it would take three to five hours for waters to recede enough for owners to retrieve them or wreckers to tow them.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said most of the cars were abandoned along Interstate 45 just north of downtown. Acevedo said people can locate their towed cars using the Houston Police Department website findmytowedcar.com.
One man drowned after he drove his van into 8 feet of water in an underpass, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.
“According to witnesses, for some unknown reason he just punched it and tried to drive through it some more, which didn’t make sense,” Gonzalez told KTRK-TV.
The unidentified man was pronounced dead at a hospital, one of two fatalities caused by Imelda.
In Jefferson County, in far southeast Texas, 19-year-old Hunter Morrison was electrocuted as lightning struck while he was trying to move his horse Thursday afternoon.
Harris County officials said there had been at least 1,700 high-water rescues and evacuations to get people to shelter. More than 900 flights were canceled or delayed in Houston.
A Jefferson County resident of the county seat Beaumont told Courthouse News that flooding from Imelda was worse there than in August 2017 when Hurricane Harvey’s torrential rains inundated the city.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday issued disaster declarations for 13 counties.
Imelda dumped more than 40 inches of rain over three days in some areas in and around Houston, making it the fifth-wettest tropical storm on record for the contiguous United States, according to the Weather Channel.
Hurricane Harvey is No. 1 on the list with 60.58 inches.
Though Imelda knocked out electricity for tens of thousands of southeast Texas residents Thursday, the area’s main electric utility company said late Thursday that power had been restored to 99% of its customers, with 11,075 households still waiting for the lights to come back on.
In Winnie, a town of about 3,200 people 60 miles east of Houston, a hospital was evacuated.
Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather such as storms, droughts, floods and fires, but without extensive study they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.
Climate change skepticism runs deep among Republican leaders in Texas, and Abbott has said it’s “impossible” to say whether he believes manmade global warming is causing the kind of disasters the state is telling residents to get used to. Abbott this year approved billions of new dollars to fortify the Texas coast against flooding.
The flooding from Imelda came as Hurricane Humberto blew off rooftops and toppled trees in the British Atlantic island of Bermuda, and Hurricane Jerry was expected to move to the northern Leeward Islands on Friday and north of Puerto Rico on Saturday.
And in Baja California, Tropical Storm Lorena bore down on Mexico’s resort-studded Los Cabos area, predicted to arrive Friday at hurricane force.
The storm was forecast to pass over or near the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula later in the day with heavy winds and soaking rains. A second tropical storm, Mario, was about 365 miles (590 kilometers) south of the southern tip of the Baja peninsula early Friday and had sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kilometers). But it wasn’t expected to hit land.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)