Torrential rain floods parts of southeast Texas, killing 4 motorists, moves east

Published 4:16 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The unrelenting rain that flooded southeast Texas, killing four motorists and sweeping two children down a drainage ditch, moved into Tennessee with less of a punch early Tuesday, headed for the East Coast.

The heaviest rainfall Tuesday morning was in the Chattanooga area, where about 1.5 inches of rain fell, well short of the 10 inches that swamped parts of Houston on Monday, said National Weather Service forecaster Shawn O’Neill in Morristown, Tenn.

Radar showed 50 mph wind gusts in the higher elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains along on the Tennessee-North Carolina line.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The storm had put a damper on the Arkansas State Fair Monday as it dumped more than 6 inches of rain in parts of the state, prompting flash flood watches. But it was Texas that was hardest hit.

In Houston, the flooding and storm damage closed numerous roads and some public school systems. The rain was expected to taper off Tuesday morning, although more flooding was likely for the San Jacinto River near Humble, which could affect 150 to 300 homes.

“It’s scary looking at all this water like this. It concerns me a whole lot,” Charles Smith said as he looked at his submerged front yard south of Houston on Monday. “If we get any more rain, it will be in my house.”

Official rainfall totals for the 24 hours ending at 7 p.m. Monday included 11.71 inches in Conroe, 9.69 inches at Houston’s Hobby Airport and 6.52 at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport.

At least four people died in the storm.

Houston residents Patricia Gutierrez, 36, and her daughter Melissa Rojas, 16, died in their submerged sport utility vehicle in an underpass where 8 to 12 feet of water accumulated near Interstate 45. James Johnston, 56, of Needville, was found dead in his car southwest of Houston. A 54-year-old woman died when a pickup lost control on a slick farm road and hit her head-on, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Water exerts such strong pressure on submerged vehicles, said Sgt. P.E. Ogden III with the Houston Police Department, that “Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn’t get out.”

In the Brazos Valley, several children were swept away as they played in swift-moving waters. None was harmed.

Authorities found a 14-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl walking on a Madison County road about 1 1/2 miles downstream from where they had been playing in a drainage creek, the Bryan-College Station Eagle reported. “They were a little scared and cold, but they were fine,” Sheriff Dan Douget said.

Parts of Interstates 10 and 45 were shut down around Houston on Monday, and the University of Houston and several other schools were closed. Twenty bayous overflowed their banks, but county officials said no evacuations were ordered.

In Hitchcock, near the Gulf Coast, a tornado tore the roof off a mobile home, but no one was injured. Two other mobile homes sustained minor damage.

Another tornado struck near the Jefferson County town of China, near the Louisiana line, said emergency management spokeswoman Darlene Koch. Five mobile homes and two houses were destroyed but no injuries were reported.

Galveston County emergency management coordinator John Simpson said the county had “sporadic” power outages.

“Things are pretty good,” Simpson said. “We’re hoping the rain stays away. Our creeks are going down, but that will be a long, gradual process.”