TEXAS CITY, Texas (Reuters)
Tropical Storm Nicholas crawled across the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast on Tuesday (September 14), drenching the region with torrential downpours and leaving hundreds of thousands without power as floodwaters and debris-covered streets throughout the area.
It was the second major storm to hit the region in recent weeks after Hurricane Ida killed more than two dozen people in August and devastated communities in Louisiana near New Orleans.
Rainfall rates of one to three inches an hour were expected with totals possibly reaching more than five inches an hour in isolated areas in the Upper Texas Coast and southern Louisiana on Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.
Nicholas was about 55 kilometres southeast of Houston by 1:00 pm Central Time (1800 GMT), heading east-northeast with maximum sustained winds of 65 kilometres/hour, the National Hurricane Center advised in a bulletin.
The storm, moving at 11 kilometres/hour, was expected to progress slowly northeast throughout the day and then turn eastward, moving over Louisiana, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle through Thursday.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards warned of flash floods triggered by the heavy rain as drainage systems were still clogged with debris from Ida and other storms.
“It’s vital that we have as many resources as possible to respond to the forecasted heavy rainfall, potential for flash flooding & river flooding across Central & South Louisiana. I urge everyone to be prepared,” he said on Twitter on Tuesday.
The storm was expected to drop five to 10 inches of rain across the region and possibly 20 inches in isolated areas across southern Louisiana through Thursday, the National Weather Service said.
By midday, more than 94,000 customers in Louisiana and 422,000 in Texas did not have power, according to a Reuters tally, while in the Houston area alone, more than 288,000 customers faced outages, utility CenterPoint Energy said.
A CenterPoint official told local media crews were assessing power lines and isolating affected areas.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared states of emergency in 17 counties and three cities, with boat and helicopter rescue teams deployed or put on standby.
‘A little scary’
The storm, packing winds of 120 kilometres/hour, made landfall as a hurricane along the Texas Gulf Coast early on Tuesday.
Patrice Johnson, 70, who lives in Texas City, Texas, about 40 miles southeast of Houston, was up all night worrying about trees in neighbouring yards falling into her property.
“It was a little scary,” she told Reuters outside a local grocery store. “It was pretty windy. I was surprised how windy it was.”
Jeff Moore, 55, a homeowner in nearby Bayou Vista, said the water came up to his back deck, but he did not lose power. “If we had lost power, that would have been terrible,” he said.
About 14 inches of rain fell in Galveston, while Houston got almost six inches of rain overnight and into the morning, the National Weather Service reported.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said there were no injuries or fatalities reported in the city, where crews were cleaning up debris and restoring power. “It could have been a lot, a lot worse,” he said.
The Houston Independent School District, along with dozens of school districts across Texas and Louisiana, cancelled classes.
The METRO in Houston resumed limited light rail and bus service on Tuesday. Hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed at airports in Corpus Christi and Houston.
Galveston County spokesperson Tyler Drummond said officials were assessing the damage, but there were no reports of injuries. “I suspect what we will find is a lot of rooftop damage from sustained winds,” he said.
In Clear Lake Shores, a community of 1,000 people some 25 miles north of Galveston, kayakers paddled along streets, surveying the damage to businesses, according to footage from KHOU TV in Houston.
President Joe Biden declared an emergency for Louisiana and ordered federal assistance for local responders because of the effects of Nicholas, the White House said on Monday.
Although Hurricane Ida knocked a significant amount of refining capacity offline in the Gulf Coast earlier this month, Texas refineries remained operating as of early Tuesday.