The widespread damage brought to the Houston area by one of the wettest tropical cyclones in U.S. history came into broader view Saturday, as floodwaters receded to reveal the exhausting cleanup effort that lies ahead for many communities and homeowners.
Hundreds of homes and other buildings in the region, extending eastward from Houston and across the Louisiana border, were damaged by Imelda, as the one-time tropical storm slowly churned across the region, dumping more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) of rain in some spots and being blamed for at least five deaths.
Officials in Harris County, which is home to Houston, were trying to determine if millions of dollars in uninsured losses were enough to trigger a federal disaster declaration, Francisco Sanchez, a spokesman for the county’s Office of Emergency Management, said Saturday.
Authorities raised the storm’s death toll to five, saying it is believed to have killed a 52-year-old Florida man who was found dead Thursday in his stranded pickup truck along Interstate 10 near Beaumont, which is near Texas’ border with Louisiana. Jefferson County spokeswoman Allison Getz said that although floodwaters seeped into Mark Dukaj’s truck, investigators don’t believe he drowned, though they do believe his death is storm-related. An autopsy will determine the cause.
A section of the highway just east of Houston remained closed Saturday after at least two runaway barges struck two bridges carrying eastbound and westbound traffic. Nearly 123,000 vehicles normally cross the bridges each day, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. The Coast Guard has said that witnesses reported early Friday that nine barges had broken away from their moorings at a shipyard along the fast-moving San Jacinto River.
Two barges remain lodged against the bridges, said Emily Black, a spokeswoman for the state Transportation Department.
“The current is really very strong right now so it’s kind of pushed them up against the columns,” she said.
Inspectors hope that the water will recede and the current will slow down enough for the barges to be removed this weekend so that a better assessment of the damage to the bridges can be made.
Several schools in the Beaumont area were damaged by floodwaters and two are closed indefinitely as officials evaluate the extent of the damage, the Beaumont Enterprise reported. The closure of schools in two separate school districts could affect more than 3,000 students.
Counties in the region, meanwhile, imposed curfews to ensure motorists stayed off roadways that still have standing water. Elsewhere, in Galveston County, officials said people along a Gulf Coast peninsula could be without fresh water service for a month because a water treatment plant was knocked out of operation by flooding, The Galveston County Daily News reported.