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(CNN) —  

Hundreds of cars were left on Houston freeways Thursday as flooding made the highways and many other roads impassable.

As officials watched waters recede late Thursday, tow truck drivers removed 200 of the vehicles that were in the roadways and waited to remove hundreds more, Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

Many of the bayous or creeks were returning to normal, officials said at a nighttime news conference. The San Jacinto River wasn’t and is expected to crest around 5 a.m. CT.

“Things are starting to improve,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. But there were concerns for neighborhoods along the river and near Lake Houston, where a torrent of rain fell as Imelda – a tropical storm that weakened to a tropical depression – passed over.

Vehicles were nearly submerged Thursday morning near the Elegante Hotel in Beaumont.
PHOTO: Courtesy Lupe Torres
Vehicles were nearly submerged Thursday morning near the Elegante Hotel in Beaumont.

At least one death is storm related, officials said. A man who was in a van that drove into deep water Thursday died.

He was in his 40s or 50s and was one of at least three people extracted from a submerged van, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

The driver of the van was approaching a freeway when he paused briefly, then drove into water that was 8 feet deep, causing the van to submerge, Gonzalez said.

The storm brought intense rain to southeastern Texas over three days. Some areas have received more than 30 inches, and one spot in Jefferson County got 43.15 inches, according to the National Weather Service office in Houston.

Recent developments include:

• The Harris County Sheriff’s Office tweeted that it had received calls for 387 water rescues.

• Flight arrivals at Houston Bush Airport will resume at 4 a.m. Friday, officials tweeted. One entrance to the airport is closed because of flooding.

• The Houston city government will be open Friday, but area public schools will not be.

Desperation in Beaumont and elsewhere

In the Beaumont area of Jefferson County, some neighborhoods looked like lakes Thursday. Video posted by state game wardens showed rescuers in an airboat, speeding down covered streets to surrounded homes.

“The situation here is turning worse by the minute,” Michael Stephens, trapped by floodwaters at an apartment complex in the nearby city of Vidor, told CNN Thursday.

“People have snakes in their apartments from the creek. … (We) also have elderly disabled people stuck in their apartments.”

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From inside, Stephens recorded video of people trudging through floodwater outside. He said for this area, the flooding seemed worse than he remembered from 2017’s deadly Hurricane Harvey.

In Beaumont, ankle-deep water had collected in the lobby of the Elegante Hotel, and more was coming in, video recorded by Lupe Torres on Thursday showed.

Floodwater poured into Beaumont TV station KBMT Thursday morning, forcing the news staff to move to their sister station in Houston, KHOU, to broadcast.

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott declared a state of disaster Thursday for 13 counties.

Drivers trapped on I-10 near Winnie

In the community of Winnie – between Houston and Beaumont – floodwaters intruded onto Interstate 10 and surface streets Thursday morning, trapping motorists on the highway and surrounding businesses. A photo on social media showed a truck almost submerged near a hotel.

Steve Castle told CNN floodwaters had him stuck in his truck on I-10 early Thursday.

“I was supposed to be driving back to Houston. I don’t think I’m going anywhere soon,” Castle said from his truck.

In Chambers County, which includes Winnie, at least 200 homes were taking on water, Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said. The sheriff’s office said it was reaching trapped people with high-water rescue vehicles and airboats.

High-water vehicles also were being used to evacuate several patients from the Winnie hospital, Constable Dennis Dugat told OnScene.TV.

Chambers County rescuers use an airboat to ferry people to drier ground near Winnie on Thursday morning.
PHOTO: Chambers County Sheriff's Office
Chambers County rescuers use an airboat to ferry people to drier ground near Winnie on Thursday morning.

In Spring, north of Houston, Edward and his wife were returning home from after dropping their nephew at his house after school when they saw some ranchers, horses and passersby struggling in the floodwaters.

The couple pulled over and noticed everyone in the water was fighting to get the horses out, and in the process, one man was swept into the bushes by the current. Once the group was able to get the horses out safely, they went back in for the man and pulled him out as well.

Both the horses and people were all rescued.

More rain to come Thursday

The storm is in East Texas and slowly moving northeast. Flash flood watches are in effect Thursday more millions of people across East Texas and western Louisiana.

In Louisiana, the storm could bring 3 to 5 more inches of rain – with isolated amounts as high as 10 inches – on Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

Houston may receive more than 12 inches of rain before the storm is over, while suburbs will have received more.

Comparing rainfall from Harvey and Imelda

Imelda is causing some of the most serious flooding in southeastern Texas since Hurricane Harvey, which created major problems in August 2017.

Generally, Harvey, which claimed dozens of lives and caused billions of dollars in damage, dropped more rain than Imelda.

Harvey broke the US record for rainfall from a single storm, dumping more than 60 inches about 90 miles east of Houston. Harvey left 34 inches of rain at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, and more than 40 inches in areas east of the city.

CNN’s Steve Almasy, Amanda Jackson, Hollie Silverman, Alisha Ebrahimji, Paul P. Murphy, Konstantin Toropin, Camila Bernal, Nicole Chavez and Judson Jones contributed to this report.