As hurricane season got underway in the Atlantic, many along the Texas coast experienced Tropical Storm Imelda. From Sept. 17 to 18, six to 20 inches of rain fell on Matagorda and Brazonia counties. On Sept. 19, the storm moved eastward and dumped torrential rain on Montgomery, Harris, Chambers, Liberty and Jefferson counties. Five people died as a result of the storm that prompted the release of toxic air pollution from chemical plants and refineries in the area, according to The Associated Press.
National Weather Service Houston meteorologist Jimmy Fowler said it was a record- breaking tropical storm.
“It is the seventh-wettest tropical storm in history, the No. 1 being Harvey and that’s within the continental United States,” Fowler said.
A tropical storm is classified when wind speeds reach between 39 and 75 mph according to Fowler. Tropical storms can be threatening to life and property. Fowler said Imelda brought torrential rain and produced tornadoes but did not have enough strength or time to cause storm surges. The National Weather Service reported the highest rainfall was in Jefferson County at 43.15 inches. Tropical cyclones are known for strong winds but Imelda downpours at a dangerous rate.
“It wasn’t just the amount of rain that fell. We were getting from four to six inches of rain per hour. So when you have rain falling down that quickly, it doesn’t really have the time to run off or be absorbed into the ground,” Fowler said.
As the floodwaters receded, rescue operations got underway. Krystal Smith with the American Red Cross said the organization has made several trips to assist those affected by Imelda.
“We have deployed several volunteers, some of [whom] are from right here in the North Texas area, down to assist the efforts,” Smith said. “We have shelters that are still in operation right now for people [who] were displaced from their homes due to the flood waters. At those shelters, we’re providing them a safe place to sleep, we provide meals and snacks, everybody gets blankets and a cot. So we try to make them as comfortable as we can during such a difficult time.”
Smith said the American Red Cross has coordinated with government at all levels to help the affected, assess the damage and coordinate relief donations. Although they have provided assistance by sheltering and feeding those who have been displaced, the Red Cross has also provided emotional assistance.
“We also have our disaster mental health and spiritual care teams that are out there, going through the communities to talk to people,” Smith said. “Some of these people are still stressed from Hurricane Harvey and so the fact that another flood had come in through can obviously cause some emotional distress. So we have disaster mental health workers there to help them process that as well.”
Hurricane Harvey heavily flooded several parts of Southeastern Texas two years ago in the same region affected by Tropical Storm Imelda.