Residents were evacuating their homes in Southeast Texas on March 15 as rivers swollen by days of heavy rain displaced thousands of people, forced the temporary closure of a major interstate and overwhelmed small towns along the Louisiana border.
People rushed to fill sand bags to place around their houses as authorities warned of record flooding not seen since 1884 along the Sabine River, which serves as a long border between Texas and Louisiana. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was scheduled to tour the area on March 16, has issued a disaster declaration across much of the region.
Livestock was being moved to higher ground and residents were trying to salvage equipment in some areas, including by using small boats to move equipment out of flooded buildings. Officials warned people using boats to escape floodwaters to be careful of fast-moving waters and of poisonous snakes and other wildlife that could pose threats.
In the town of Orange, Mayor Jimmy Sims said he’d never seen the kind of flooding that has hit the area about 100 miles east of Houston over the last week. He asked people to stay away from the downtown area on Tuesday amid its evacuation.
“Hopefully we’ll be out of the woods soon,” he said, noting that much of the floodwater is moving toward marshland in Louisiana that can better absorb the water.
No deaths or serious injuries have been reported in the region, which was slammed by as much as 20 inches of rain over four days last week. Steadily rising waters along rivers prompted evacuations beginning last weekend.
Although the rain has mostly subsided, the water is moving south along several waterways, including the Sabine, Neches and Trinity rivers, heading to Galveston Bay — but not before inundating several riverside towns.
The heavy rains also prompted authorities to release massive amounts of water from the Toledo Bend Reservoir, including at a rate of 207,000 cubic feet per second — similar to the flow rate over Niagara Falls — according to National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Humphrey.
Nine spillway gates were open early Tuesday releasing 67,000 cubic feet per second at the reservoir, which at 284 square miles is one of the largest man-made bodies of water in the South. The draining has contributed to the flooding.
The flooding forced intermittent closures of Interstate 10, one of the country’s major transportation arteries.
The Texas Department of Transportation at one point closed the eastbound lanes and motorists as far away as El Paso, in another time zone, were warned to find alternative routes. The interstate was reopened by early Tuesday afternoon. Then Orange County officials said late Tuesday night that eastbound lanes near the Louisiana border had been closed due to high water.