The remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda lashed Houston and coastal Texas, inundating homes, paralyzing travelers, disrupting oil supplies, and threatening hospitals and refineries.
More than three feet of rain has drenched the region, flooding roads and shutting schools, manufacturing plants and tourist sites, along with key oil pipelines and terminals in an area that serves as America’s energy hub. Exxon Mobil Corp. shut its
Beaumont chemical plant, while Valero Energy Corp. and Total SA cut rates at nearby refineries.
The downpour has been non-stop for three days, reviving memories of Hurricane Harvey’s historic week-long deluge in 2017. The Gulf Coast has been prone to widespread, damaging flooding, with a dozen instances since 2015, according to the Weather Research Center. On Thursday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a “state of disaster” for the region.
“The amount of rainfall will rival records set during Hurricane Harvey, which makes this the second 500-year rainfall within two years,” said Chief Executive Officer Joel N. Myers, of AccuWeather Inc.
A 20-year-old man was killed by lightning early Thursday as he and his father tried to rescue a horse from high water in a rural area east of Houston, said Allison Getz, a spokeswoman for Jefferson County Emergency Management.
Flash flooding and tornadoes menaced Houston’s northern suburbs Thursday, halting flights into George Bush International Airport and prompting city leaders to urge residents to stay off the roads. About 80,000 homes and businesses lost power, according to utility websites, and the airport won’t reopen until Friday afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
In the refining center of Beaumont, 80 miles east of Houston, both city hospitals were surrounded by flooding, and emergency responders were aiding in “hundreds” of road rescues, said Carol Riley, an emergency services spokeswoman. Dozens had been rescued by Thursday afternoon, with others still stranded, she said.
“We are asking people that if they have a couple of inches of water in their homes, they should stay where they are,” Riley said by telephone. “We’d much rather they stay in a place they know is safe than to put themselves in danger.”
Exxon told non-essential workers at its
Beaumont chemical plant and adjacent oil refinery to go home or stay at home because of the high water, people familiar with the matter said. Interstate 10 was submerged and shut to traffic in two counties east of Houston, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
On the energy side, Phillips 66 and Energy Transfer crude terminals, with a combined storage capacity of almost 40 million barrels, were also closed, as was TC Energy’s Marketlink pipeline that shuttles crude stored at a vital Oklahoma storage hub to Gulf Coast refiners. The Energy Transfer installation
reopened later Thursday.
The Bayou Bridge pipeline owned by Energy Transfer and Phillips 66, which carries crude across Louisiana, also was idled while shipments on the Sabine-Neches waterway, which connects East Texas terminals and refineries with the Gulf of Mexico, have been paused. The waterway is scheduled to open again at 5 p.m. local time.
National Weather Service office in Lake Charles, Louisiana. In Houston, all public transit has been suspended.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey paralyzed Houston with about 40,000 people forced out of their homes by flooding and 30,000 water rescues occurring during the storm. A record 60.6 inches (153.9 centimeters) fell near Nederland, Texas, about 90 miles east of Houston.
The six-month hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30, is in its most active phase, likely lasting through early October. Imelda was the ninth named storm this season.
— With assistance by Barbara J Powell, Chris Martin, Sheela Tobben, Catherine Ngai, David Marino, and Robert Tuttle
(Updates Sabine-Neches waterway in 11th paragraph)