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Imelda leaves 2 dead in Texas, others stranded and trapped

Several cars were flooded along Interstate 10 in Southeast Texas, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, due to Tropical Storm Imelda. The National Weather Service says Imelda is the seventh-wettest tropical cyclone to strike the 48 contiguous United States on record. (Guiseppe Barranco/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)

CHINA, Texas (AP) — Parts of Texas remained underwater Friday after the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda soaked the Houston area, leaving at least two people dead and prompting hundreds of rescues for people trapped during a relentless downpour that drew comparisons to Hurricane Harvey two years ago.

Imelda’s aftermath is also blamed for major travel headaches as motorists slogged through water-swollen streets, air travelers faced flight delays and cancellations, and crews worked to determine whether any damage occurred after nine barges broke free of their moorings, two of which struck an Interstate 10 bridge over the San Jacinto River and prompted its closure.

The heaviest rainfall had ended by Thursday night in southeast Texas, but forecasters warned that parts of northeast Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana could see flash flooding as Imelda’s remnants shifted to the north.

Officials in Harris County, which includes Houston, said there had been a combination of at least 1,700 high-water rescues and evacuations to get people to shelter as the longevity and intensity of the rain quickly came to surprise even those who had been bracing for floods. The storm also flooded parts of southwestern Louisiana.

More than 900 flights were canceled or delayed in Houston on Thursday. Further along the Texas Gulf Coast, authorities at one point warned that a levee could break near Beaumont in Jefferson County. During Harvey, Beaumont’s only pump station was swamped by floodwaters, leaving residents without water service for more than a week.

Imelda’s remnants on Thursday led to the deaths of two men. A 19-year-old man drowned and was electrocuted while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a message from his family shared by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. Crystal Holmes, a spokeswoman for the department, said the death occurred during a lightning storm.

A man in his 40s or 50s drowned when he tried to drive a van through 8-foot-deep floodwaters near Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston during the Thursday afternoon rush hour, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

The National Weather Service said preliminary estimates suggested that Jefferson County was deluged with more than 40 inches of rain in a span of just 72 hours, which would make it the seventh wettest tropical cyclone in U.S. history.

Even when Houston was finally rid of the worst, downtown highways remained littered with abandoned cars submerged in water. Thousands of other drivers were at a practical standstill on narrowed lanes near flooded banks.

“The water kept rising. It kept rising. I couldn’t believe it,” said Ruby Trahan Robinson, 63. She uses a wheelchair and had a portable oxygen tank while getting settled into a shelter at City Hall in the small town of China, just outside Beaumont.

“It rolled in like a river,” she said.

Turner, the Houston mayor, evoked the memory of Harvey — which dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the nation’s fourth-largest city in 2017 — while pleading with residents to stay put.