"Rain is falling faster than we can drain," Doug Canant, district engineer for Jefferson County Drainage District 6, said in a statement to county officials during Thursday's frantic response to the unfolding disaster.
(TNS) — Imelda did more than swamp houses and strand motorists. The storm threatened to overwhelm the structures designed to protect communities from the worst kinds of flooding.
"Rain is falling faster than we can drain," Doug Canant, district engineer for Jefferson County Drainage District 6, said in a statement to county officials at one point during Thursday's frantic response to the unfolding disaster.
Mid-morning, authorities warned of a potential failure of the Green Pond Gulley Levee, which holds back 4,600 to 5,600 acres of surface water in the Green Pond Detention Basin. That protects 219 homes in Gilbert Lake Estates, plus the area near FM 365 and Interstate 10 and agricultural acres.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office said the levee could break at any moment. County Judge Jeff Branick acknowledged the levee near Fannett "may fail" and ordered evacuations, though he cautioned there was no estimated timeline.
The levee underwent repairs of a 26-foot-deep washout following Tropical Storm Harvey in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Still, the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management determined the detention basins were unable to keep up.
According to the Drainage District, Jefferson County has seen more than 40 inches of rain during the past three days near Taylors Bayou and I-10 between Winnie and Beaumont.
Evacuations were ordered Thursday morning for Bevil Oaks and Gilbert Lakes Estates due to concerns over the levee, according to the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management, and airboats were sent to help get people with an emphasis on the unincorporated areas.
"If you live in the area and have a boat, please pick up your neighbors and go to Hwy 365 overpass at I-10," the Sheriff's Office said in a public statement.
A potential failure was not expected to have an impact on Beaumont residents, but the speed of the rainfall also made it hard for the city's drainage system to keep up.
Beaumont police spokeswoman Carol Riley said the city's emergency operations center was activated Wednesday night and had been monitoring the situation.
On Thursday, it focused most of the police and fire response on life-threatening emergencies.
"Let the public know more than anything stay off the roads," she said. "Shelter in place. People are panicking because they have ankle deep water in some places or their cars are stalling."
Beaumont's emergency line had received 590 flood-related calls as of 8 a.m. Thursday.
"We're in strict life-saving mode right now," Riley said.
Jefferson County Drainage District 7, which includes Port Arthur, had to shut the gates on FM 365 because the Rodair Gully overflowed its banks and made passage unsafe.
Many of the comments on the drainage district's Facebook page expressed appreciation to the district because certain streets and ditches hadn't flooded.
"So many people are flooding again, but those pumps are music to my ears," Margie Marino wrote.
By late Thursday morning, previously spared Mid-County cities started seeing more water.
Nederland City Manager Chris Duque said water was starting to enter garages and come close to the front doors of some Nederland homes. The fire department was assisting people with flooded homes outside the city limits, but who are in the fire response area.
According to the drainage district, personnel began manning essential pump stations at 4 a.m. Wednesday and have been "pumping around the clock since."
"We will continue to do so until the storm is gone and our system is back to normal operating levels," officials wrote. "We are doing everything within our capabilities to move the water out of our district. Stay safe, don't try to get out in these conditions."
The power grid also became a problem, with more than 13,000 customers in Southeast Texas still without power as of nightfall, according to Entergy Texas.
Efforts to restore power were hindered by high water in some places.
Even Interstate 10, a monument to transportation engineering, was closed in two areas, west of Beaumont and east of Vidor. Texas Department of Transportation crews erected barricades to keep people from driving into flooded areas.
And to avoid further surprises from the popup storm that packed a wallop, the Beaumont Independent School District decided early on to keep schools closed on Friday.
©2019 the Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas)
Visit the Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas) at www.beaumontenterprise.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.