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Texas disaster declaration expanded to 88 counties

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(The Center Square) – Residents of southeast Texas are still grappling with flooding that has brought devastation to communities, forced schools to close, and led to mandatory and voluntary evacuations.

Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the state’s disaster declaration on Friday to now include 88 counties covering at-risk areas for severe weather and flooding.

“As flooding conditions and severe weather continue in multiple regions across Texas, I expanded the disaster declaration to add 59 counties to ensure Texans and their communities receive the assistance and support they need to stay safe,” Abbott said. “For Texans in at-risk areas, it is important to remain weather-aware, follow the guidance of state and local officials, and avoid traveling in dangerous flood conditions. The State of Texas continues working with emergency management and local officials to deploy any additional resources needed to provide ongoing support and protect our fellow Texans.”

According to the National Weather Service, all areas of the state face increased risks of severe thunderstorms, bringing excessive rainfall that is expected to lead to flash flooding. The NWS is forecasting extreme river flooding for Central and East Texas river basins.

Severe weather is expected to impact major river basins, it says, through next week, indicating that river flooding threats will persist. The governor’s office explained that historic releases from lake and reservoir operators will contribute to major flooding for downstream rivers and tributaries. Those living below reservoirs and along river systems “are encouraged to heed warnings of local emergency management officials.”

Severe weather threats also include large hail, damaging wind, and possible tornadoes.

State responders assisted with multiple high-water rescues in Central and Southeast Texas throughout Thursday night as thunderstorms, torrential downpours and power outages hit many areas of southeast Texas. State transportation and law enforcement personnel are assisting with road closures and sandbagging efforts. Impacted school districts are reporting altered schedules after many closed earlier in the week.

Texans are urged to monitor local forecasts, make an emergency plan, and follow instructions of emergency response officials, the governor’s office said. Emergency management personnel are reminding Texans: “Never drive or walk through flooded roads, and do not drive around barricaded roadways. Remember: Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”

Video footage of areas of southeast Texas from Livingston, to Shepherd, to New Caney show water levels reaching or surpassing the roofs of homes, entire highways and roads wiped out, and some residents trapped in vehicles.

NEW VIDEO: Flooding in Livingston, Texas. pic.twitter.com/NlL8NETedc— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) May 2, 2024

On Friday, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and Fire Marshal, Jimmy Patronis, said several agencies were providing assistance to Texas. Florida was “deploying 43 Urban Search and Rescue Task Force members, a team with water capabilities that will be pivotal in saving those trapped by intense flooding in Texas. They’ll go door-to-door throughout the impacted region to ensure that residents are rescued or unharmed.”

Florida and Texas often provide reciprocal assistance during hurricane season. “After Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida, Texas was there to aid Florida’s first responders in recovery efforts … Now, Florida is proud to provide assistance,” he said.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a press briefing on Friday, “This threat is ongoing and it is not your typical river flooding. This is much worse. It’s a catastrophic event, and we all need to take the urgent and necessary steps to respond accordingly.”

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said his deputies rescued 11 adults and 9 children from one mandatory evacuation area. By 4 p.m., they’d rescued 39 people and 13 animals.

The San Jacinto River Authority reported that more than 20 inches of rain fell north of Lake Conroe over the last week. The lake measured 204 feet, reaching its third-highest level ever, KHOU 11 News reported.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire on Friday told Kingwood residents to evacuate. “Do not wait until it’s too late or you will endanger our first responders,” he said.

State Rep. Charles Cunningham, whose district includes Kingwood, said the area received roughly four months’ worth of rain in one week, making comparisons to the disaster caused by Hurricane Harvey flooding in 2017.

Nearly 8,000 Entergy Texas customers are without power who were impacted by severe thunderstorms in southeast Texas; CenterPoint has restored power to more than 96,000.

Roughly 150 miles west of Fort Worth in central Texas, large tornadoes created a path of destruction. In the small town of Hawley, a tornado swept through, destroying at least 30 homes.

One family appears to have been rescued by a storm chaser, KWTX News reported. Their 7-year-old son was sucked up by the tornado, flew 25 feet into the air and landed on top of insulation, miraculously surviving.

“We are glad we are alive,” his mother told KWTX. “It is an absolute miracle. It was strong enough that we shouldn’t have been able to walk away.”