Authorities reported the first death linked to Tropical Storm Imelda, which dumped torrential rains over the Houston-area, while rescuers in boats pulled hundreds of people from flooded cars, the city’s airport temporarily halted flights and tens of thousands of people lost power on Thursday.
By late afternoon, the rains had mostly abated but officials warned millions of people in the area to stay put and not move, as it would take several hours for floodwaters to drain off.
“If you’re at school, stay at school. If you’re at home, stay at home. If you’re at work, stay at work,” said Lina Hidalgo, the Harris County judge, at a press conference as she declared a state of emergency for the Houston area. “Right now, it’s about life safety.”
One man southeast of Houston was electrocuted while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a statement on the Facebook page of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. No other details were provided.
George Bush Intercontinental Airport halted all flights for about two hours due to the storm, and Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for over a dozen counties.
Hundreds of motorists were stranded in their vehicles as some of Houston’s main roadways flooded, submerging cars. Firefighters, police and ordinary citizens were out in boats and all-terrain vehicles to pick up people trapped in their homes by the rising waters.
The storm knocked out power to around 100,000 people in Houston and southeast Texas, according to reports from energy companies, while work at oil refineries in the area was slowed or halted.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was better prepared to rescue stranded residents and deal with flooding than when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, leading to dozens of deaths in Houston and billions of dollars in damage.
The small town of Winnie, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Houston, was badly hit. Officials there evacuated Riceland Hospital and tried to rescue people marooned in their vehicles after roads turned into lakes.
Parts of Interstate 10, a major east-west highway, were closed near Winnie.
Imelda made landfall as a tropical storm near Freeport, Texas on Tuesday.
Torrential Imelda rains kill 1, flood homes, snarl travel around Houston