AUSTIN—Communities in southeast Texas are returning to assess damage to their homes and businesses this week following heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding of major rivers including the Sabine, Neches and Trinity Rivers.
Flooding in the region began on March 7, when a strong upper level storm system stalled over Mexico and Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama requesting a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Some locations received more than 10 inches of rainfall, others reported more than 18 inches.
“The rainfall was so intense that a few areas broke all-time March rainfall records,” the letter said.
The Sabine River gauge at the City of Orange in Orange County didn’t set a record when it crested on March 16 at 7.62 ft, but it’s a significant amount that is comparable to the storm surge flooding that occurred following Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Abbott toured and visited Orange, Texas, on March 16 in order to survey the damage caused by the flooding, as well as meet with county and emergency management officials. Abbott said he was struck by the size of massive flood area and noted several homes were half-submerged in the water.
Initial local assessments for Jasper, Newton and Orange counties estimate 687 homes were destroyed or received major damage and some 4,460 homes were affected or received minor damage. But authorities say there have been no major injuries or fatalities.
“Our top priority is to ensure no loss of life,” Abbott said, noting hundreds of citizens had been evacuated by rescue teams. He encouraged Texans affected by the floods to heed warnings issued by local officials of dangers that may arise and asked residents in portions of the state that scathed flooding to donate to an organization helping victims.
“I want the people of southeast Texas to know that the state has and will continue to assist them with any and all challenges they have.”
Obama approved of Abbott’s request for a major disaster declaration, providing Individual Assistance and Public Assistance to residents, effective March 19. Affected Texans may be eligible for grants of up to $33,000 from the federal government, as well as low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“As Southeast Texas continues to face severe weather, it is imperative that Texans receive the vital assistance needed to begin rebuilding and restoring their communities,” Abbott said.
Flood warnings remain in effect for Orange County and areas near the Sabine River until the night of March 23, when it’s expected the river will begin to fall below flood stage, or until the warning is cancelled, the National Weather Service said.
Local law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, public works, public utilities and emergency management have been evacuating residents, clearing debris, responding to stranded motorists and more. Voluntary agencies have provided services ranging from mass shelters, emergency food boxes, shower units, clothing distribution, medical kits, financial assistance via gift cards, and more.
Once the flooding subsides, local and state leaders will continue to assist those affected rebuild their lives as quickly as possible, Abbott said.
City of Orange offices reopened March 22 and immediately began coordinating debris pickup for residents.