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Flooding in Livingston, Texas. (Drone Bros via CNN Newsource)

Over 220 people rescued during Texas floods

May 5, 2024

By Mary Gilbert, CNN Meteorologist and Joe Sutton, CNN

(CNN) — At least 224 people have been rescued from homes and vehicles in Harris County, Texas, an official said Saturday night, with more rain expected over the weekend in the wake of strong storms and downpours that damaged homes and triggered evacuations.

No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo told CNN, adding 153 pets have also been rescued during a deluge that has left livestock stranded.

“It’s been really sad to see the impact of people’s livelihoods, homes, infrastructure as well as just the public infrastructure,” Hidalgo told CNN Saturday.

“We’re really asking folks to give it a minute before they go back home.”

Most of the weekend rain will fall over western and central Texas, but a chance of heavier rain returns for the greater Houston area on Sunday. The heaviest downpours in central Texas will occur upstream of the flooding in Houston – which is located in Harris, potentially exacerbating flooding in a region where 12 river gauges have reached major flood stage.

This week’s storms were just the latest in a series of brutal weather events that have pounded the state since early April. Dozens of tornadoes have hit from the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, some areas of the state have been pounded with softball-sized hail and months of rain has fallen in East Texas in intense spurts, causing rivers to rise to levels not seen since the devastating floods of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

The Storm Prediction Center issued a tornado watch for southwestern Texas – including San Angelo and Del Rio – until 10 p.m. local time. Severe thunderstorms capable of producing a few tornadoes, hail as large as grapefruit and damaging winds up to 70 mph are possible across the region this afternoon and evening, according to the center.

“The risk for a strong tornado may maximize during the late afternoon to early evening timeframe,” the center warned.

A severe thunderstorm watch is in effect from southeastern New Mexico into northwestern Texas until 10 p.m. local time. It includes Abilene and Midland in Texas, and Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The forecast comes as some communities north of Houston picked up nearly two months’ worth of rain Thursday. This rainfall plunged roadways underwater and forced rivers to overflow, leading to evacuations and water rescues.

Here’s what’s happened in South Texas Friday evening:

San Jacinto County, 60 miles north of Houston: About 100-200 homes are affected by floodwaters and mandatory evacuations are in effect. The event is “85% worse than Hurricane Harvey,” Emmitt Eldridge, the county’s emergency management coordinator, told CNN. Eldridge said since they are downstream from Dallas along the Trinity River, “we are expecting to see a lot more water” because of additional rainfall. “Anything they deal with, we deal with,” he added. According to Eldridge, there have been at least 58 water rescues in the county so far. More rain is expected in the area next week.

Walker County, about 70 miles northwest of Houston: Authorities are calling the floods historic there as well. “This has been a historic flood for Walker County. We have flooded more from this event than we did during Hurricane Harvey,” Sherri Pegoda, Walker County’s deputy emergency management coordinator, told CNN. According to Pegoda, two communities are underwater along the Trinity River and are only accessible via high-water vehicles. “Almost all roads in Walker County were completely submerged Monday night and into Tuesday,” Pegoda said. “We still have approximately 43 roads that are flooded with several major washouts and a couple of bridges that have been compromised.” At least 42 high-water rescues have been performed in the county since April 28, she added.

Polk County, about 80 miles northeast of Houston: A mandatory evacuation order remains in place for low-lying unincorporated areas as severe weather is expected to impact the area Sunday, the Polk County Office of Emergency Management said in a Facebook post. Areas under evacuation orders are along the Trinity River and below the Lake Livingston Dam. “Our area may receive up to 1 to 3 inches of rainfall with isolated amounts of up to 4 to 8 inches possible,” the post said. The county is under a flood watch until 7 p.m. Sunday, the post said.

Roughly 700 homes have been flooded, according to emergency management officials, who warned additional rainfall could keep flood levels on the rise in the coming days. A total of 1,000 homes are in a mandatory evacuation zone in the county, Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy told CNN. A flood warning remained in effect Friday for the county. The judge said they were concerned and keeping an eye on what was happening north of the county with the flooding because it would impact the area. “Due to continuous rainfall across East Texas and rising levels in creeks and rivers, flood levels may increase. Please remain aware of changing flood levels along the Trinity River and ALL low-lying levels. If you wish to evacuate, please do so now!,” the emergency management office recently said in a Facebook post.

Harris County, which also includes several northern Houston suburbs: Mandatory evacuations have been in place since Thursday for residents on the east side of the East Fork of the San Jacinto River. The river hit major flood stage on Thursday and is forecast to crest Saturday morning just a few feet shy of the record level during Harvey. “We want you out of this area… this is a life-threatening situation,” Hidalgo said at a newsconference. The level of water rise anticipated will impact elevated structures and may rise to reach rooftops or power lines, according to Hidalgo.

In the Harris County suburb of Crosby, a school bus driver spotted flooding over a road that had not yet been barricaded, stopped the bus and had the middle and high school students on board exit through the rear door, according to a statement from the school district. Another bus brought the students to school, where they were provided with breakfast and dry clothes, the statement added.

• Liberty County, about 45 miles northeast of Houston: The Coast Guard transported a 12-hour-old baby girl by helicopter from Cleveland, Texas, Friday. The girl was experiencing low oxygen levels at Texas Emergency Hospital, which does not have a neonatal intensive care unit, according to a news release from the Coast Guard. Due to flooding, she could not be transported by ambulance on the ground. The helicopter took the girl and her mother to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where the baby was reported to be in stable condition, the release added.

Voluntary evacuations due to flooding were also in place for Montgomery County, just to the north of Harris County.

Disaster declarations are active for over a third of Texas counties after Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the storm-related declarations in response to the flooding, according to a news release. Additional counties could be added in the coming days, particularly with more storms in the forecast.

Parts of eastern Texas have received anywhere from three to seven times their typical rainfall over the last three to four weeks. The repeated bouts of heavy rainfall soaked soils, making many areas extremely prone to both flash and river flooding. Nearly a foot of rain fell in some spots from Thursday to Friday morning, delivering the final blow. Periods of rain will continue through Friday evening, and an additional 1 to 2 inches of rain are possible.

The worst flooding is confined to southeastern Texas where at least a dozen river gauges – including parts of the San Jacinto and Trinity rivers – are in major flood stage, the highest level, as of Friday morning. Several more sites are forecast to experience major flooding by the weekend and could meet or exceed record levels set during Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey created a widespread flooding disaster in Houston after dropping 30 to 40 inches of rain across the entire metro in just 48 hours. While this week’s ongoing flooding is notable, it’s much less widespread and occurring north of where Harvey’s worst rain fell.

Powerful storms rolled across the state

As torrential rain flooded eastern Texas, severe thunderstorms spun up tornadoes both north and south of the Abilene area in west Texas.There were eight reports of tornadoes Thursday, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

A “large and extremely dangerous” tornado impacted the towns of Hodges and Hawley – about 10 miles north of Abilene – Thursday evening.

Around 30 homes in Hawley were shredded by the tornado’s winds, with entire sections of some homes left completely exposed. Cars in the area also sustained damage from flying debris. There were “numerous” injuries, but no deaths as of Friday morning, Hawley Police Chief Brad Wilson told CNN.

At least one area school district is allowing students to study from home or take time to recover Friday, following Thursday evening’s damaging tornado.

“The Hawley community has been hit pretty hard and we have several families that have lost homes,” the Hawley Independent School District said in a Facebook post.

Rainfall totals from flooding in Texas and Louisiana this week showed nearly two feet of rain in five days, according to the National Weather Service. Totals ranged from 23.56 inches in Groveton, Texas, to 18.42 inches in Livingston, Texas.

CNN’s Allison Chinchar, Sara Tonks, Ray Sanchez, Andy Rose, Joe Sutton and Paradise Afshar contributed to this report.

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