Death toll rises to 5 as flooding paralyzes Houston area

ByMAX GOLEMBO via ABCNews logo
Saturday, September 21, 2019
Death toll rises to 5 as flooding paralyzes Houston area
Cars are flooded as people walk though the flooded street of Little York on September 19, 2019 in Houston, Texas.

Five Houston-area deaths are now blamed on Tropical Storm Imelda as Texas residents fight through hazardous flooding that's brought the region to a standstill, leaving hundreds of cars swamped and abandoned.

The remnants of Imelda dumped up to 43 inches of rain within three days in the areas between Winnie and Beaumont, east of Houston. Most of that rain fell in just 24 hours.

Some residents whose homes were flooded by Hurricane Harvey two years ago are now seeing rain seeping into their houses yet again.

"It was really just intense rainfall that wouldn't stop. It was very [Hurricane] Harvey-like," Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

On Friday, Houston emergency workers discovered a man's body in a ditch and said they believed he had drowned. Authorities also said two drivers had died in their cars as a result of the flooding, including the driver of a stalled 2017 Dodge pickup truck on Interstate 10 who was discovered dead after floodwaters receded, and a 47-year-old Beaumont resident who was declared dead after his body was found inside his vehicle in Jefferson County.

Earlier, authorities reported two deaths on Thursday as the floodwaters rose: one man who drowned after driving into floodwaters and a second man who was electrocuted and drowned while trying to move his horse, according to authorities.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday declared a state of disaster for 13 counties as the floodwaters climbed up to the door handles of SUVs.

In Harris County, which encompasses Houston, more than 1,000 people were rescued. Some residents used tractors and air boats to pull other to safety.

A Harris County Sheriff's sergeant was heading to rescue a man stranded in floodwaters early Friday when the fast current trapped him, Sheriff Gonzalez said. The sergeant, who had lost all contact with the department, clung to a tree branch to avoid the quick current until both men could be rescued, Gonzalez said.

"We collectively just held our breath for a minute ... we're just all relieved," said the sheriff, who knows the sergeant personally.

Jayden Payne, a student at Aldine Senior High School in Houston, was in the car with his mom when he saw an SUV head into a ditch -- "and it was going down fast."

Payne said he ran over, dodging other cars, and dove into the water to help pull a mother and daughter to safety.

"I was frightened for the little girl because I could tell she was 4 years old. And I was like, 'She's too young for her life to get taken away right now,'" he told ABC News. "They were both too young."

Houston, the nation's 4th largest city, saw over 9 inches of rainfall on Thursday, the wettest September day ever recorded there.

About 200 students from the Aldine Independent School District were forced to spend the night at school after they couldn't get home due to the flooding, ABC Houston station KTRK reported.

Houston public schools were closed Friday.

This week's downpour is the fourth highest amount of rain from a tropical system in Texas' recorded history, as well as the seventh highest amount of rain from a tropical system in U.S. recorded history.

Hurricane Harvey brought 60 inches of rain to Texas two years ago, which remains the U.S. record for most rain from a tropical system.

And the threat isn't over.

Scattered showers and thunderstorms hovered over southeastern Texas Friday afternoon, and officials said heavy downpours could still strike, which would exacerbate the already saturated ground conditions.

ABC News' Clayton Sandell, Gina Sunseri and Mya Green contributed to this report.

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