Fifth death linked to storm that walloped Houston area

BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — 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.

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Flooding in the Midwest
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Flooding in the Midwest
Gabe Schmidt, owner of Liquid Trucking, back right, travels by air boat with Glenn Wyles, top left, Mitch Snyder, bottom right, and Juan Jacobo, bottom left, as they survey damage from the flood waters of the Platte River, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019. Hundreds of people remained out of their homes in Nebraska, but rivers there were starting to recede. The National Weather Service said the Elkhorn River remained at major flood stage but was dropping. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
An orange windsock is seen at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb., site of the bases' flooded runway, Sunday, March 17, 2019. Rising waters from the Missouri River flooded about a third of the base, including about 3,000 feet of the base's 11,700-foot runway. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
A BNSF train sits in flood waters from the Platte River, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019. Hundreds of people remained out of their homes in Nebraska, but rivers there were starting to recede. The National Weather Service said the Elkhorn River remained at major flood stage but was dropping. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Gabe Schmidt, owner of Liquid Trucking, right, talks to Glenn Wyles, second right, as they survey by air boat flood damage from the flood waters of the Platte River, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019. Hundreds of people remained out of their homes in Nebraska, but rivers there were starting to recede. The National Weather Service said the Elkhorn River remained at major flood stage but was dropping. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Gabe Schmidt, owner of Liquid Trucking, top right, travels by air boat with Glenn Wyles, top left, Mitch Snyder, bottom left, and Juan Jacobo, bottom right, as they survey damage from the flood waters of the Platte River, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019. Hundreds of people remained out of their homes in Nebraska, but rivers there were starting to recede. The National Weather Service said the Elkhorn River remained at major flood stage but was dropping. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Vice President Mike Pence and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, second right point to flooded areas, with Neb. Gov. Pete Ricketts, left, during a helicopter flight over areas affected by the flooding of the Missouri and Elkhorn Rivers, Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in Nebraska. Pence flew to Omaha, Neb., Tuesday to view damage and to offer support to first responders, volunteers and those displaced by the floods. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Vice President Mike Pence, center, flies by helicopter over areas flooded by the Missouri and Elkhorn rivers, with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, right, and Neb. Gov. Pete Ricketts, left, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
This Tuesday, March 19, 2019 aerial photo shows flooding along the Missouri River in Pacific Junction, Iowa. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says rivers breached at least a dozen levees in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. Hundreds of homes are damaged, and tens of thousands of acres are inundated with water. (DroneBase via AP)
Akashi Haynes, left, and her daughter Tabitha Viers carry their belongings rescued from their flooded home in Fremont, Neb., Monday, March 18, 2019. Authorities say flooding from the Platte River and other waterways is so bad that just one highway lane into Fremont remains uncovered, and access to that road is severely restricted. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
A BNSF train sits in flood waters from the Platte River, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019. Hundreds of people remained out of their homes in Nebraska, but rivers there were starting to recede. The National Weather Service said the Elkhorn River remained at major flood stage but was dropping. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Cars sit in flood waters from the Platte River alongside a BNSF train, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019. Hundreds of people remained out of their homes in Nebraska, but rivers there were starting to recede. The National Weather Service said the Elkhorn River remained at major flood stage but was dropping. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Flooded RV's, washed away by the flood waters of the Platte River, are seen in Merritt's RV Park in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019. Hundreds of people remained out of their homes in Nebraska, but rivers there were starting to recede. The National Weather Service said the Elkhorn River remained at major flood stage but was dropping. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
RETRANSMISSION TO CORRECT SURNAME - Tom Wilke, center, his son Chad, right, and Nick Kenny, load a boat out of the swollen waters of the North Fork of the Elkhorn River after checking on the Witke's flooded property, in Norfolk, Neb., Friday, March 15, 2019. Heavy rain falling atop deeply frozen ground has prompted evacuations along swollen rivers in Wisconsin, Nebraska and other Midwestern states. Thousands of people have been urged to evacuate along eastern Nebraska rivers as a massive late-winter storm has pushed streams and rivers out of their banks throughout the Midwest. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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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 right now," 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.

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