AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has declared a state of emergency in parts of Texas. Imelda, now a tropical depression, has brought heavy rains and flash flooding to the southeastern part of the state. The storm is flooding out some of the same areas inundated by Hurricane Harvey two years ago. We're joined now by Houston Public Media's Laurie Johnson.
Hi there, Laurie.
LAURIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: I understand, at this point, you are one of the people who's essentially trapped. What's going on?
JOHNSON: Yeah, that's right. I can get out of my immediate neighborhood, but I can't get very far beyond that. I'm up north of central Houston in an area known as Kingwood, and so many of the side streets are impassable right now with high water. There's - Lake Houston is right nearby. There's also a major river in the Kingwood area. And so water is just - it's just been raining and raining and raining, and it's hard to get out of here.
CORNISH: How widespread are the problems?
JOHNSON: It's really widespread over southeast Texas. So you know, there's a lot of focus on Houston because it's such a major metropolitan area, and parts of Houston have certainly seen very significant flooding today. But really, southeast Texas and some smaller, more rural communities, like Winnie, have been the hardest hit. That's closer to the Texas-Louisiana border. And also, Beaumont - they've had serious significant flooding. Winnie, I think, has had in excess of 40 inches of rainfall since this all started.
CORNISH: Now, I understand Houston's mayor, Sylvester Turner, spoke today, telling people not to leave their homes - right? - or businesses if they were in a safe place. Let's hear him.
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SYLVESTER TURNER: We understand people's anxiety, people's nervousness, people's desire to get home. We understand all of that. But what I will say to you - if you're in school, stay there. If you're on your job, stay there. If you are visiting someone, stay there. If you're in your home, stay in your home.
CORNISH: Listening to all these potential places where people should stay - you know, I'm wondering if this storm caught people by surprise.
JOHNSON: It absolutely did, I think, for many people because Houston is so huge. You could be on one side of town and not see any rain at all and on another side of town have people going through high-water rescues.
I myself almost got stranded this morning. I was out reporting in the Kingwood area, and the downpours were so heavy, and it was so hard to see what was on the roads. The water was just coming up very quickly. And I was driving down one street and I could see high water ahead, so I turned down another street. But there was high water there, so I pulled into a parking lot. And that parking lot started flooding. And I find - found myself having to turn around and go the wrong way up a street to get out of this situation. And it just happens very rapidly.
We saw this storm sort of hovering in the Gulf of Mexico. And at that point, it was, you know, a storm, a disturbance, but it wasn't a tropical storm yet. And I don't think people realized how quickly these things can develop. When it became a tropical storm, it was already at the coastline and making landfall at the same time and hitting a very populated area.
So one thing I noticed was that, you know, people weren't making runs to the grocery store to, you know, stock up on bottled water and milk and bread like you normally do when you see that storm coming into the Gulf. There wasn't that much time to do that kind of thing.
CORNISH: That's Laurie Johnson of Houston Public Media.
Laurie, we're glad you're safe.
JOHNSON: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.