Harris, Montgomery counties declare emergencies as East Texas region floods

Severe flooding is seen on US Highway 59 near Choates Creek in Polk County. <cite>Credit: TxDOT Lufkin social media</cite>
Severe flooding is seen on US Highway 59 near Choates Creek in Polk County. Credit: TxDOT Lufkin social media
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Editor's note: This story is no longer being updated. For the latest information about flooding in Southeast Texas, please read this article.

LUFKIN – The East Texas town of Livingston was under water most of Thursday. And Texans across the region — including northern Harris County, the state's most populous — were bracing for an extended deluge with levels of water that rival Hurricane Harvey.

Drone footage of high waters along U.S. Highway 59 Thursday showed moving trucks and cars swept away. Businesses and homes have brown water at their windows. Most county roads compromised, officials said.

Livingston is the county seat for Polk County, which is one of several counties in the region that have seen between 15-20 inches of rain in the last five days, National Weather Service Meteorologist Hayley Adams said.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo updated her call for a voluntary evacuation to a mandatory evacuation in communities of the county's northeastern region before flooding worsens with the coming storms. She also declared an emergency for the county. Houston Mayor John Whitmire said the city was preparing for extraordinary rain storms Friday evening, The Houston Chronicle reported.

Montgomery County, which neighbors Harris County, has issued similar such declarations as flood levels continue to rise.

Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the state's disaster declaration Thursday afternoon to now cover 88 counties at risk for sever weather and flooding. The National Weather Service said extreme river flooding was expected into next week in Central and East Texas.

[How Texans can prepare for extreme weather]

There are flood warnings in place for Trinity, Walker and San Jacinto counties along with all counties south toward the Houston metro area. Parts of Harris County, including the Woodlands and the Kingsville area, were also under flood warnings.

Flash flood warnings were also issued for Hardin, Jasper, Orange and Tyler County by the National Weather Service Lake Charles district, according to Hardin County Emergency Management.

Several of these counties released evacuation orders in the last 24 to 48 hours, including Trinity County, which has ordered the evacuation of specific roads and neighborhoods. Many local school districts have canceled classes. Rainfall is expected through Saturday.

“We've had several inches of rain fall within the last 12 hours on top of significant recent rainfalls already this week and it's led to several flash flood warnings in and around the area,” Adams said. “There were numerous reports of flooded roads. We've had high water rescues and some [additional] light to moderate rain moving over that area right now. We are expecting another round of rain for tonight with an additional two to four inches possible.”

The Texas Department of Transportation Lufkin District has closed portions of U.S. Highway 59 throughout East Texas as it has become impassable due to flooding. Officials were not aware of any significant injuries or deaths.

Polk County Emergency Management, on social media, asked residents who had not yet evacuated to stay home as “all roads are compromised.” Truckers are lined up in whatever high, flat places they can find. County and city roads have washed away, leaving massive holes under water, said Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy.

The Lake Livingston Dam has been releasing over 111,000 cubic feet of water per second since Thursday morning, breaking the record established for water released during Hurricane Harvey, Murphy said.

Communities south of the dam were experiencing even higher levels of flooding. A conglomeration of county employees, game wardens, volunteer and professional emergency responders and state emergency officials have spent the last 12 hours rescuing people who did not evacuate when told to do so earlier this week, Murphy said. The county judge suggested crews could rescue more than a thousand people in the area before the storms are over.

The Dunbar Gym remains open as a shelter, but the county’s other flood shelter option is unreachable due to high water that has spread across the rest of Polk County. Churches and local organizations who have buildings above the flood waters have opened their doors, Murphy said. Camp CHO YEH, a Christian-based summer camp, has also opened its facilities and is being heavily utilized by the county.

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered an escalated response to increase the readiness of the Texas Division of Emergency Management on Wednesday. He has already ordered disaster declarations for several counties over the last few days in response to heavy rainfall since April 8.

“Texas stands ready to quickly deploy all available resources necessary to help communities across Texas as severe weather and flooding impacts our state,” Abbott said in a statement released May 1.

“I directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to increase the readiness level of the State Operation Center to ensure a swift response as we continue to mobilize state emergency response resources Texans need to stay safe.”

The new rainfall is landing on already heavily saturated soil, meaning it won’t be absorbed and instead will flood.

Debbie and Robert Blakely live northeast of Lake Livingston, in between the lake and downtown Livingston. Robert Blakely is a heavy equipment operator for the Polk County road crew and was called in to clear roadways, establish barriers and generally support the county.

Debbie Blakely on Thursday told the Texas Tribune the back part of the acre of land, behind their double-wide trailer, had completely flooded. And a creek that usually runs about100 feet away from their trailer, is instead along their fence line.

The couple moved to Polk County 25 years ago from North East Texas and are used to their fair share of storms. They have lived through hurricanes, tropical storms and more that have dumped feet of rain on the Deep East Texas community.

But the unrelenting storms over the last few days have been different, Debbie Blakely said.

“This is the craziest that I’ve seen,” she said.

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