Parts of Interstate 10 Remain Closed in Texas After Barges Hit Bridge, Flooding From Imelda

Jan Wesner Childs
Published: September 21, 2019

A bridge on Interstate 10 in Texas remained closed indefinitely Saturday morning after at least two runaway barges hit it, and questions are being raised about potential impacts to a nearby federal Superfund site.

A flooded portion I10 between Winnie and Beaumont was also still closed, as well as several smaller roads between Houston and the Louisiana state line, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Both closures occurred during or in the aftermath of Tropical Depression Imelda, which dumped more than 40 inches of rain Wednesday and Thursday on some parts of Southeast Texas. The torrential downpours inundated streets and sent first responders scrambling to rescue people stranded in buildings and cars. At least four deaths have been connected to the storm.

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The bridge that crosses the San Jacinto River about 15 miles east of Houston was closed Friday morning after at least two barges that had come loose from their moorings at a shipyard crashed into it overnight and remained pinned against the pilings.

This screenshot from a video by Brandon Clement shows damage to the Interstate 10 bridge over the San Jacinto River.
(Brandon Clement/LMS)

High waters were hampering efforts to assess the damage.

“There is clear damage we can see before we even get our inspection crews there,” Texas DOT spokeswoman Emily Black said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “You can see the areas where the barge hit the bridge.”

Black said initial assessments indicate most of the damage was to the westbound span, and its possible the eastbound span could reopen first and be used for two-way traffic.

Witnesses told the Coast Guard early Friday that nine barges in all had come loose, the Associated Press reported. Video taken Friday morning showed two of the barges pushed up against each other at the bridge, and one of them appeared to have collided with some bridge pilings.

Six other loose barges passed under the bridge and may have also hit it at some point, the U.S. Coast Guard said. The ninth barge was grounded on a federal Superfund site and dump known as the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, according to the Chronicle. The site used to be on land, but has sunk over the years.

Officials were coordinating with the Superfund site managers to remove the barge.

Both the barges pinned against the bridge and the one stuck on the Superfund site are being monitored for their own potential environmental impacts due to the chemical cargoes they were carrying.

(WATCH: Repeat Flooding Weighs on Texans

Drivers were advised to watch for detours around the closed roadways.

"Those that are traveling I-10, you need to divert in Louisiana if you’re coming westbound," Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Cpt. Crystal Holmes told The Weather Channel on Friday.

Holmes said first responders were still rescuing people from their homes in parts of the county Friday morning.

"We are still doing water rescues," she said. "We have some citizens that we’re getting down into those areas and taking them out still. That portion at this point is almost complete."

In Houston, fire crews performed more than 900 water rescues and responded to more than 1,760 911 calls during the flooding.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office had performed more than 420 high-water rescues, and responded to more than 1,000 emergency calls, 36 major crashes, and 357 stranded vehicles in the Houston area as of Friday afternoon.

One of those rescues almost turned tragic when a deputy and a driver he was trying to save were swept away by floodwaters. They clung to trees and bushes for more than 30 minutes until they were rescued, the Houston Chronicle reported.

On Saturday, authorities raised the death toll to five due to the severe weather.

A 52-year-old Florida man was found dead in his vehicle off of Interstate 10 near Beaumont on Thursday. A Jefferson County spokeswoman said his death was related to the storm.

Police in Beaumont said the body of 47-year-old Malcolm Foster was found inside a vehicle as floodwaters receded Friday morning.

Harris County Sheriff's Office spokesman Jason Spencer said that a man whose body was found in a ditch north of Houston Friday likely drowned from storm-related flooding. An autopsy will be performed to confirm the cause of death.

The unidentified man was last seen walking during severe rainfall that hit the Houston area.

Hunter Morrison was electrocuted by a downed power line in nearby floodwaters while he and his father were trying to save one of their horses on their property in Beaumont, Jefferson County Emergency Management confirmed to The Weather Channel.

Later Thursday, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez confirmed the death of a man who was pulled from a submerged van at Interstate 69 and the Will Clayton Parkway in Humble. The man was removed from the van and given CPR; He was then transported to a local hospital in critical condition, but was later pronounced dead. Three others were extracted from the van and there is an ongoing search for additional occupants.

The man was identified Friday as 56-year-old Raul Eliseo Rivas-Hernandez, according to the Chronicle.

Splendora Police Lt. Troy Teller, left, Cpl. Jacob Rutherford and Mike Jones pull a boat carrying Anita McFadden and Fred Stewart from their flooded neighborhood inundated by rain from Tropical Depression Imelda on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Splendora, Texas.
(Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency in 13 counties, which helps local officials get access to state resources.

Jefferson County, where Beaumont is located, and Chambers County, which includes the town of Winnie, were especially hard hit by the flooding. Initial estimates indicate some 800 homes and businesses in Chambers County sustained flood damage, the AP reported.

(WATCH: Aerial View of Imelda's Massive Flooding

The Houston Fire Department said the roof of a post office mail distribution facility on Aldine Bender Road collapsed on Thursday. Three people with minor injuries were taken to a hospital.

Thursday afternoon, a possible tornado destroyed a mobile home in Hackberry, Louisiana, the Cameron Parish Sheriff's Office reported.

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