Imelda’s Toll in Texas: Flooding, Deaths and Fears About a Bridge

As the remnants of the former Tropical Storm Imelda moved north on Friday, residents in southeast Texas were assessing the damage from a storm that unexpectedly brought an onslaught of rain and flooding and became one the top 10 wettest storms in United States history.

The unrelenting rain took many residents by surprise. The storm that had barely earned a name — it briefly ranked as a tropical storm before being downgraded to a tropical depression — moved in and hovered over the region, rekindling memories from when Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rainfall in some areas and caused dozens of deaths in 2017.

So far, Imelda’s damage appeared less extensive, but just as devastating in certain areas: At least two people have died, including a man who drowned after being electrocuted while trying to move his horse and another whose car submerged underwater. Hundreds of homes have flooded. And residents whose homes were inundated two years ago were steeling themselves for what they might return to once the storm clouds moved out.

On Friday, public schools in Houston were closed. Officials were also scrambling to control barges that broke loose in Harris County and struck a bridge that carries traffic across the San Jacinto River. Officials, concerned about possible structural damage to the bridge, shut down Interstate 10 in both directions.

From Tuesday morning to Thursday night, much of southeast Texas absorbed more than 10 inches of rain. Areas southwest of Beaumont were hit hardest, with an extraordinary 43 inches near Fannett, Tex., enough to make Imelda the seventh wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States, according to the National Weather Service.

Southeast Texas typically sees about 63 inches of rainfall total in a given year.

Climate change tends to increase the amount of rainfall during storms, since a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, but scientists must evaluate individual storms after the fact to determine how climate change contributed. (Researchers found that the record rainfall during Harvey was as much as 38 percent higher than would be expected in a world that was not warming.)

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