George Floyd, a ‘gentle giant,’ remembered in hometown Houston march

By Ernest Scheyder

HOUSTON (Reuters) – George Floyd’s hometown of Houston held a memorial march for him on Tuesday, where attendees recounted a “gentle giant” whose legacy had helped the city largely avoid the violent protests seen elsewhere in the United States.

The mayor’s office said 60,000 people gathered downtown to honor Floyd, who died after a white police officer pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25.. Floyd’s death has ignited protests across the country.

Floyd lived most of his 46 years in Houston’s historically black Third Ward neighborhood, located about a mile south of the park where the march began. He moved to Minneapolis in recent years for work.

The memorial march was organized by well-known Houston rappers Trae Tha Truth, who was a longtime friend of Floyd’s – and Bun B, who worked directly with Floyd’s family for the event. Houston’s mayor and police chief attended.

“We’re gonna represent him right,” Trae Tha Truth, whose given name is Frazier Thompson III, told the crowd of several hundred people gathered for the march. “We are gonna tear the system from the inside out.”

He added: “George Floyd is looking down at us now and he’s smiling.”

After a prayer, the marchers exited the park and began to walk toward City Hall.

Democratic U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents portions of Houston where Floyd was raised, told the crowd that she would introduce police reform legislation in Congress on Thursday in honor of Floyd.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is black, said he understood marchers’ pain and told them they were making an impact.

“People that are in elected office and positions of power – we are listening,” Turner said. “It’s important for us to not just listen, but to do. I want you to know your marching, your protesting has not gone in vain. George did not die in vain.”

Houston has so far largely escaped the violent protests, with some attributing that directly to the legacy of Floyd himself.

“The people who knew George the best help set the tone for Houston. They knew what he was about. He truly was a gentle giant, a sweet guy,” said David Hill, a Houston community activist and pastor at Restoration Community Church, who knows the Floyd family.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Brad Brooks and Peter Cooney)

Woman living in her car brings sandwiches, love to the homeless of Houston

(Reuters) – Dominick SeJohn Walton spots a man with a shopping cart piled high with belongings and a sign that says “Homeless. Please Help” under a Texas highway overpass. With the coronavirus keeping many at home, the road is quieter than usual.

FILE PHOTO: Dominick Walton, who is homeless herself, leaves food bags for homeless people amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Houston, Texas, U.S., April 19, 2020. REUTERS/Go Nakamura

She hands him a plastic bag filled with a baloney and cheese sandwich, cookies, and applesauce. On the outside she has written in permanent blue marker: ‘God Bless. Jesus loves you. I love you!’

Walton knows what it is like to be homeless and hungry. She is currently living mainly in her car, sleeping at her sister’s apartment in Houston sometimes.

“I started serving meals to the homeless because I understand what it’s like not to know where your next meal is going to come from and that’s the least that I feel like we can do for our community is to give back,” said the 27-year-old.

Walton’s car became her home after she became depressed following surgery for an ectopic pregnancy. She quit her job as a gas station cashier and is now living in the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu, trying to save enough money to start a t-shirt business featuring her own designs. She was recently hired by a non-profit organization that distributes meals to low-income families.

In many U.S. cities, homeless people are spending their nights on empty trains, or camping behind closed businesses and under deserted highways. Many fear to enter homeless shelters, where the coronavirus can spread fast.

Walton drives around and spots a man sitting on the ground.

“Hello sir,” she calls out, her big smile hidden behind the surgical mask she wears. He does not respond, perhaps dozing, so she touches his elbow with her gloved hand to give him some food.

FILE PHOTO: Dominick Walton, who is homeless, sleeps in her car amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Houston, Texas, U.S., April 26, 2020. REUTERS/Go Nakamura

Walton buys the groceries herself or uses leftovers from her employer, making the bags in her sister’s apartment, where her 1-year-old and 4-year-old nieces play.

When she is done for the day, she parks her car near a mall, park, or just a quiet neighborhood, propping her cellphone against the car window while she stretches out in the front seat.

Her dreams: A t-shirt business so successful that she can give away even more food.

(Reporting by Go Nakamura; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Coronavirus hits hundreds of U.S. police amid protective gear shortages

By Michelle Conlin, Linda So, Brad Heath and Grant Smith

New York (Reuters) – When nine police officers showed up to make an arrest near Melrose Avenue in the Bronx last Wednesday, none wore a mask or gloves to protect them from coronavirus.

Similar scenes play out all over the city daily: officers making arrests, walking their beats and responding to 911 calls without protective gear, according to interviews with nearly two dozen New York City officers and scenes witnessed by Reuters.

As of Sunday, 818 members of the nation’s biggest police force had tested positive for coronavirus, including 730 uniformed officers and 88 civilian staffers, according to NYPD. The department said about 5,000 of its 55,000 total employees are on sick leave.

Major city departments nationwide, such as Houston and Detroit, are being forced to sideline officers as infections rise in the ranks, according to a Reuters survey of the nation’s 20 largest U.S. police agencies conducted between March 25 and March 29. The police agencies have confirmed 1,012 cases of COVID-19 among officers or civilian staff, according to the survey and a Reuters review of the departments’ public statements.

The pandemic has depleted police forces already strained by staffing shortages. Many departments have told officers to limit their interactions with the public and maintain social distancing. Some agencies are re-assigning detectives and administrative staff to help respond to emergencies as more patrol officers get sick, which requires pulling the investigators away from major cases.

“There’s a lot of triaging going on,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank that advises police on policy issues. “Many departments are having to re-order priorities and the calls they respond to. Police are having to reshuffle how they use their resources.”

NYPD may face the biggest challenge because of the severity of the city’s outbreak: Of the 2,477 deaths reported nationwide as of Monday, 678 came in New York City.

The officers interviewed by Reuters said shortages of gear leave them vulnerable and that they fear spreading the virus to their families and the public.

“We show up first, to everything, and we are completely unprotected,” said one officer in the 33rd precinct.

All of the New York officers interviewed by Reuters spoke on condition of anonymity. They say the department forbids them from speaking to reporters.

Sergeant Jessica McRorie, an NYPD spokesperson, said that the department was responding to an “unprecedented” crisis and has issued detailed guidance to officers on how to protect themselves. Since the outbreak began, she said, the NYPD has distributed 204,000 pairs of gloves, 75,000 N-95 masks, 340,000 surgical masks and distributed 125,000 alcohol wipes and hand sanitizer to employees.

NYPD did not answer questions from Reuters about whether that amount of gear – much of it disposable – was sufficient to protect its 36,000 officers and 19,000 civilian employees. The department also did not comment on the accounts of officers who said they had little or no protective gear, or whether it had experienced difficulty in purchasing enough supplies.

Masks and other protective or sanitary supplies have often been scarce since the pandemic sent worldwide demand surging, prompting safety concerns from a wide range of workers who interact daily with the public, from first responders to doctors to delivery drivers.

One uniformed NYPD officer and two civilian employees have died after contracting COVID-19. The officer – 23-year veteran detective Cedric Dixon from the 32nd precinct in Harlem – died on Saturday.

On March 13, the New York City police union filed a complaint with state health and safety regulators over the department’s failure to provide protective equipment and adequate cleaning and sanitizing supplies. The union emphasized the threat to officers’ families.

“It’s important for our leaders to remember that we aren’t the only ones at risk,” said Patrick J. Lynch, president of the city’s police union, in a statement. “Our husbands and wives and daughters and sons didn’t pick this job, but they share our sacrifice.”

Reuters was not able to determine whether any family members of NYPD officers had been infected.

SIDELINED OFFICERS, DELAYED ARRESTS

Departments nationwide are struggling to protect their officers – and to operate without those who are getting sick. The Reuters survey asked police agencies how many of their employees tested positive for coronavirus, how many were quarantined, and how the outbreak has impacted their operations.

The Nassau County Police Department – just outside New York City on Long Island – reported the second highest number of cases with 68 employees testing positive. In Detroit, a fifth of the city’s 2,200-member force has been quarantined after at least 39 officers tested positive – including the police chief. Two department staffers, a commanding officer and a 911 dispatcher, have died after contracting the virus.

The departments in San Antonio and Honolulu were the only ones that reported no confirmed infections on their forces.

In New Orleans and Seattle – which are not among the top 20 departments but are hotspots of infection – another seven police employees tested positive, the departments told Reuters.

The outbreak is forcing law enforcement agencies nationwide to implement sweeping changes to their policing strategies.

The Philadelphia Police Department, the nation’s fourth-largest law enforcement agency with 6,540 officers, has begun delaying arrests for certain non-violent offenders. The change means individuals will be temporarily detained only to confirm identity and complete required paperwork instead of being processed at a detective division. The person will then be arrested at a later date.

The 2,440-officer Nassau County department had quarantined 163 officers as of Saturday. Its dispatchers are screening all 911 calls to check if anyone needing help is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Responding officers and medics are ordered to wear an N95 mask, gloves, eye protection and gowns, the department said.

Some departments are limiting access to their buildings. Intercoms have been installed at the entrance doors of all seven precincts of the Suffolk County police department – also in Long Island, with nearly 2,500 officers – to screen visitors for symptoms before allowing entry.

In Dallas, where 34 employees from the police department have been quarantined and two have tested positive, officers are no longer physically responding to calls for certain minor crimes. People are instead being asked to file a report online.

Complaints over shortages of protective gear are growing in major police departments. The Dallas Police Department, for instance, has issued N95 masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to its more than 3,000 officers. But the police union president says it’s not enough. Many officers, he said, are using the same mask for days even though N95 masks are not meant to be reused.

“Those masks are in such dire need,” said Michael Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association. “We’re in a very bad spot.”

Mata says he’s been told the police department has ordered more protective gear. A Dallas police spokesman said the new supplies would be handed out starting Monday and confirmed that some patrol divisions had run low on gear.

In New York City, resentment over a lack of protective gear runs deep, according to interviews with current and former officers. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, cops working on the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center were told the air was safe to breathe. Years later, many developed fatal 9/11-related cancers and illnesses.

“This is even worse than 9/11,” said one NYPD officer. “We are bringing this home to our families.”

‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’ FOR CRIMINALS

While local stay-home orders and business closures have paralyzed the economy, they do not appear to have significantly slowed crime. Reuters reviewed police dispatch records in a handful of large cities, which showed far fewer traffic stops but similar rates of calls reporting more serious crimes.

In Baltimore, the Monday after Maryland’s governor issued an order shutting non-essential businesses, city police reported making just 71 traffic stops, compared to a daily average of more than 350 a day in the months before the virus hit, dispatch records showed.

But dispatches to more serious incidents were not diminished. The number of calls reporting a family disturbance, such as domestic fights, for instance, increased slightly after the governor imposed the first business restrictions on March 16. The number of dispatches involving assaults was largely unchanged.

Baltimore’s police force did not respond to requests for comment.

ShotSpotter – a company that tracks gunshots for many large police departments using networks of microphones – said there had been no perceptible slowdown in gunfire in New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco or Miami.

“It’s business as usual, sadly, with respect to gun violence,” said ShotSpotter president Ralph Clark.

(Reporting by Michelle Conlin, Linda So, Brad Heath and Grant Smith; Editing by Jason Szep and Brian Thevenot)

Two deaths confirmed as machine shop blast rips Houston neighborhood

By Collin Eaton

HOUSTON (Reuters) – A massive explosion at a machine shop ripped through a Houston neighborhood early Friday morning, and police said at least two people were killed and several injured while homes were damaged by the explosion that sent out blast waves detected for miles.

“First and foremost, I want to say that we do have confirmed fatalities in this case, at least two confirmed fatalities,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a press briefing.

Acevedo said police and fire officials will conduct an arson investigation that could take several weeks, but stressed there is no current evidence of foul play. “Having said that, when you have this kind of a type of incident, part of our protocol is to always conduct a criminal investigation,” he added.

Aerial video showed the shredded and collapsed wreckage of the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing building smoldering but no longer flaming, along with widespread damage to area homes and businesses from the force of the blast.

The moment of the explosion, around 4:25 a.m. CST (1025 GMT), was captured on video by a home security camera and aired on KTRK. It showed a blinding flash in the distance followed by a fireball.

“I thought it was thunder,” said Bruce Meikle, 78, an owner of nearby manufacturer ChemSystems, who heard the explosion from his home about a mile (1.5 km) from the scene. He told Reuters the force of the blast bent back the metal loading doors at his business and caused minor damage inside, he said.

Paul Crea, 59, a chemist who works for Meikle, said the blast woke him 10 miles (16 km) away in Katy, a Houston suburb, and his dogs bellowed at the sound.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the blast was felt as far away as 14 miles (22 km), based on social media reports.

The explosion “knocked us all out of our bed, it was so strong,” Mark Brady told KPRC television. “It busted out every window in our house. It busted everybody’s garage door in around here. … It’s a war zone over here.”

Another neighbor identified only as Kim said her family was trapped in her home until rescued.

“The whole house is ruined,” Kim told KPRC, an NBC affiliate. “The whole ceiling crashed down on all of us. We were all trapped in there, and a nice family came and helped us out. It’s trashed. It’s just trashed. … Every house was devastated.”

The blast originated at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, which provides coatings, machining and grinding about 10 miles (16 km) northwest of central Houston.

The company’s owner told ABC affiliate KTRK a propylene gas explosion sent two people to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, reporter Marla Carter said on Twitter.

Propylene is a colorless, flammable, liquefied gas that has several industrial uses.

“This is still an active scene,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña posted on Twitter. “We will advise of the possible cause of the explosion as soon as we have concrete info.”

Houston, a major hub for the oil and gas industry, is the fourth largest city in the United States with a population of some 2.3 million.

(Reporting by Collin Eaton, Peter Szekely and Bhargav Acharya; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Alex Richardson, Frances Kerry, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

Huge explosion rips through Houston neighborhood, causing several injuries

(Reuters) – A massive explosion at a manufacturing building ripped through a Houston neighborhood early Friday morning, injuring several people and damaging homes while sending out blast waves detected for miles around, officials and media said.

Smoke poured out from inside the structure in the predawn darkness about two hours after the blast as emergency vehicle lights flashed and first responders blocked access and checked for damage, aerial video from KTRK television showed.

No fatalities were reported, but one employee was unaccounted for, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The moment of the explosion, around 4:25 a.m. CST (1025 GMT), was captured on a home security camera, also aired on KTRK, that showed a blinding flash in the distance, followed by a fireball.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the blast was felt as far away as 14 miles (22 km), based on social media reports.

“(The explosion) knocked us all out of our bed, it was so strong,” Mark Brady told KPRC television. “It busted out every window in our house. It busted everybody’s garage door in around here. … It’s a war zone over here.”

Another neighbor identified only as Kim said her family was trapped in her home until rescued.

“The whole house is ruined,” Kim said. “The whole ceiling crashed down on all of us. We were all trapped in there, and a nice family came and helped us out. It’s trashed. It’s just trashed. … Every house was devastated.”

KTRK, the local ABC affiliate, said the blast appeared to have originated at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, a machining and manufacturing company. The explosion took place on Gessner Road in northwestern Houston, city police wrote on Twitter.

“The owner of Watson Grinding tells us it was a propylene gas explosion, which sent two people to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries,” KTRK reporter Marla Carter wrote on Twitter.

Propylene is a colorless, flammable, liquefied gas that has several industrial uses.

The debris field from the explosion spread about a half mile (1 km) wide, but there were no known toxic gases emitted from the blast, Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

The explosion damaged several homes in the area, the Houston Chronicle reported, showing pictures of homes with windows blown in and debris scattered.

At least two people had cuts on their faces after their windows were blown in, according to pictures published on the Chronicle website.

“This is still an active scene,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña posted on Twitter. “We will advise of the possible cause of the explosion as soon as we have concrete info.”

A hazardous materials team was responding to the area and at least one person was taken to the hospital, the Houston Fire Department wrote on Twitter.

Mike Iscovitz, a meteorologist with the local Fox News channel, said the huge blast had shown up on local weather radar and was felt more than 20 miles (32 km) away.

“Radar clearly shows this brief FLASH of reflectivity from NW Houston,” he tweeted.

Houston, a major hub for the oil and gas industry, is the fourth largest city in the United States with a population of some 2.3 million.

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya and Peter Szekely; Writing by Frances Kerry and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Alex Richardson Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)

These Houston residents dream of moving to where the air is clear

By Loren Elliott

HOUSTON (Reuters) – On the east side of Houston, the white plumes of the Texas oil and chemical refineries are a constant backdrop for residents of the Manchester neighborhood.

Late at night or early in the morning when plants burn off excess gases, the flames light up the whole sky in the neighborhood.

Some residents say the air has a chemical-based smell that they find hard to describe but disappears once they drive a few miles away from the homes that stretch along the Houston Ship Channel, a waterway connecting the plants to the ocean. They claim that the pollution is taking a toll on their health, although the scientific evidence does not prove that.

“I want to get out of here and go to the country and find some cleaner air,” said Eugene Barragan, a 56-year-old electrician who has lived most of his life by the refineries. “It would be better for me and the kids.”

Doctors have found four lumps in his lungs and now more growths, according to the chest X-rays and medical records he showed Reuters. The first ones were not cancerous. Barragan says he has not been able to afford imaging of the new growths. He hopes they are benign so he can watch his children grow up.

“When I work hard, I start coughing and coughing and can’t stop,” he said. “I know a lot of people who have problems like that.”

POLLUTION REDUCED

Lillian Riojas, Valero Energy Corp’s chief spokeswoman, said the company has worked to reduce pollution at its refinery since purchasing it in 1997.

In the 22 years since Valero took over the refinery, ambient benzene levels have dropped 63% to 0.34 parts per billion, according to data from 1997 to 2019 from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“There’s a narrative that air quality is getting worse, but that’s not what the emission data is showing,” Riojas said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which enforces federal and state environmental laws, gives Valero’s refinery the top compliance level possible, said Andrew Keese, a spokesman for the agency. The other nearby refineries and chemical plants earned a compliance rating of satisfactory.

Of the other plants bordering Manchester, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co has the second highest-rating for compliance with environmental regulations, Keese said.

Goodyear “implemented several changes that resulted in lower emissions from our facility,” said Connie Deibel, a company spokeswoman.

LyondellBasell Industries, TPC Group [TPCL.UL] and Flint Hills Resources, which operate facilities near Manchester, did not reply to requests for comment about pollution in the area.

NO MONEY TO MOVE

A 2007 study, the most recent available, of nearly 1,000 childhood cancer cases by the University of Texas found children living within 2 miles (3 km) of the Houston Ship Channel had a 56% higher risk of contracting acute lymphocytic leukemia than children living within 10 miles (16 km) of the Ship Channel. Researchers’ analysis suggests an association between childhood leukemia and air pollution. However the study, funded by Houston’s health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, could not prove the pollutants caused the illnesses.

For years, Dennys Nieto wanted to leave the neighborhood but was only recently able to afford to move her and her family to a different part of Texas.

“I suffer from asthma and pain in my lungs. It feels like I’m being hit in the lungs,” Nieto said of her old neighborhood. “Headaches, inflammation and pain in my throat. And also I have erratic blood pressure and heartbeat.”

She checks her blood pressure and listens to her heart beat regularly.

“In the air I feel it’s this we’re all breathing. This is why I want to leave from here,” Nieto said of the Manchester area. “I want to go somewhere that is far from the refineries so that I can repair my life, repair my health and live better.”

 

(Reporting by Loren Elliott; additional reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. liable for home damages from flooding during 2017 hurricane: court

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Hundreds of Houston homeowners near U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed reservoirs may receive compensation for flooding of their properties during 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), which managed two dams and the reservoirs, had planned to flood private properties in the event of inundating rainfall, Senior Judge Charles Lettow of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims said in his decision.

Harvey dumped nearly 3 feet (90 cm) of water on the fourth most-populous U.S. city and flooded a third of Harris County, where the city and many of its suburbs are located along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“The government had made a calculated decision to allow for flooding these lands years before Harvey, when it designed, modified, and maintained the dams in such a way that would flood private properties during severe storms,” Lettow wrote.

The ruling, which involved 13 owners chosen as test cases, opens the door to billions of dollars in potential claims from other property owners, attorneys have said.

The homes were built in areas that had been free of major flooding around federal land in the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in West Houston. The ACE called the enormous rainfall during Harvey an unforeseeable event.

Homeowners alleged the government improperly used their land to store water, calling it an unlawful taking of their properties by the government. Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the federal government cannot take private property without compensating the owner.

A representative for the Army Corps of Engineers was not immediately available to answer questions about the decision.

Lettow is expected to make a decision next year on the amount of compensation the 13 homeowners can receive.

“The government intentionally flooded these private homes and businesses to save downtown Houston,” said attorney Daniel Charest of Burns Charest, co-lead class counsel for the property owners.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Texas chemical fire that forced evacuations burns for third day

HOUSTON (Reuters) – The fire at a petrochemical plant that prompted thousands of people to flee from four Texas communities burned for a third day on Friday with officials huddling as investigations were launched.

The fiery blast at a TPC Group facility on Port Neches, Texas, on Wednesday injured three workers, blew locked doors off their hinges and was felt in communities far from the site. The plant makes chemicals used in production of synthetic rubber, resins and an octane-boosting component of gasoline.

Firefighting crews continued to battle the blaze on Friday, according to TPC, and local mayors, fire officials were called to a meeting with the region’s top executive. Federal and state investigators were searching for the cause of the blaze and a Texas pollution regulator criticized the spate of such fires.

About 60,000 residents in four communities near the site were ordered to leave their homes Wednesday afternoon when a major, secondary blast prompted fears of flames reaching large storage tanks of the petrochemicals.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Torrential Imelda rains kill 2, flood homes, snarl travel around Houston

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Imelda dumped torrential rains over the Houston-area, killing at least two people, while rescuers in boats pulled hundreds from flooded cars, the airport temporarily halted flights and tens of thousands of people lost power.

Heavy rains had abated by Thursday evening, although flash flood watches remained in effect through Friday morning and rescuers were still working to reach stranded motorists and those trapped in homes late into the night as floodwaters were slow to drain off.

The National Hurricane Center said in a late Thursday bulletin that up to 45 inches of rain will have fallen in some areas by the time the storm blows off on Friday afternoon.

Ed Gonzalez, sheriff for Harris County, which includes Houston, confirmed the second death from the storm.

He tweeted on Thursday that he was at the scene where first-responders tried to save a man who had driven his white van headlong into deep waters.

“The water level was about 8′ (8 feet) high,” Gonzalez wrote, describing the incident. “The driver paused briefly, then accelerated into it the water, causing his van to go under.”

Gonzalez said the man driving the van was pulled from the vehicle after some 20 minutes underwater and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The other victim of the storm was electrocuted southeast of Houston while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a statement on the Facebook page of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. No other details were provided.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport halted all flights for about two hours, and Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster covering more than a dozen counties.

Hundreds of motorists were stranded in their vehicles as some of Houston’s main roadways flooded, submerging cars. Firefighters, police and ordinary citizens were out in boats and all-terrain vehicles to pick up people trapped in their homes by the rising waters.

The storm knocked out power to around 100,000 people in Houston and southeast Texas, according to reports from energy companies, while work at oil refineries in the area was slowed or halted.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was better prepared to rescue stranded residents and deal with flooding than when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, leading to dozens of deaths in Houston and billions of dollars in damage.

The small town of Winnie, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Houston, was also badly hit. Officials there evacuated Riceland Hospital and tried to rescue people marooned in their vehicles after roads turned into lakes.

Parts of Interstate 10, a major east-west highway, were closed near Winnie.

Imelda made landfall as a tropical storm near Freeport, Texas, on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Jonathan Allen in New York, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Tom Hogue)

Torrential Imelda rains kill 2, flood homes, snarl travel around Houston

A car passes through a flooded street as storm Imelda hits Houston, Texas, U.S., September 19, 2019 in this screen grab obtained from social media video. @kingjames.daniel/via REUTERS

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Imelda dumped torrential rains over the Houston-area, killing at least two people, while rescuers in boats pulled hundreds from flooded cars, the airport temporarily halted flights and tens of thousands of people lost power.

Heavy rains had abated by Thursday evening, although flash flood watches remained in effect through Friday morning and rescuers were still working to reach stranded motorists and those trapped in homes late into the night as floodwaters were slow to drain off.

The National Hurricane Center said in a late Thursday bulletin that up to 45 inches of rain will have fallen in some areas by the time the storm blows off on Friday afternoon.

Ed Gonzalez, sheriff for Harris County, which includes Houston, confirmed the second death from the storm.

He tweeted on Thursday that he was at the scene where first-responders tried to save a man who had driven his white van headlong into deep waters.

“The water level was about 8′ (8 feet) high,” Gonzalez wrote, describing the incident. “The driver paused briefly, then accelerated into it the water, causing his van to go under.”

Gonzalez said the man driving the van was pulled from the vehicle after some 20 minutes underwater and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The other victim of the storm was electrocuted southeast of Houston while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a statement on the Facebook page of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. No other details were provided.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport halted all flights for about two hours, and Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster covering more than a dozen counties.

Hundreds of motorists were stranded in their vehicles as some of Houston’s main roadways flooded, submerging cars. Firefighters, police and ordinary citizens were out in boats and all-terrain vehicles to pick up people trapped in their homes by the rising waters.

The storm knocked out power to around 100,000 people in Houston and southeast Texas, according to reports from energy companies, while work at oil refineries in the area was slowed or halted.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was better prepared to rescue stranded residents and deal with flooding than when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, leading to dozens of deaths in Houston and billions of dollars in damage.

The small town of Winnie, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Houston, was also badly hit. Officials there evacuated Riceland Hospital and tried to rescue people marooned in their vehicles after roads turned into lakes.

Parts of Interstate 10, a major east-west highway, were closed near Winnie.

Imelda made landfall as a tropical storm near Freeport, Texas, on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Jonathan Allen in New York, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Tom Hogue)