Meterologist Roger Erickson with the National Weather Service in Lake Charles said Orange County received rainfall inches into the upper 40s to lower 50s during Tropical Storm Harvey. “There could’ve been places in the western part of the county upward of 60 inches,” he said.
The rainfall amounts are estimates because power failures stopped the official gauges from recording.
County Judge Brint Carlton said initial surveys show 65 to 70 percent of the homes in the county received some type of damage during the storm.
Orange Mayor Jimmy Sims said 80 percent of the homes in his city were damaged.
“The entire event was incredible,” Carlton said.
Erickson and Carlton were among the guests interviewed on telephone by KOGT Radio’s Gary Stelly Tuesday morning. The Morning Show was broadcast for the first time in two weeks since Harvey stalled over Orange County and dumped feet of rain. The studios and office on Meeks Drive were flooded.
Erickson said a weather service hydrologist, a specialist in rainfall and waterways, is studying the area for more specific information on the storm and flood.
He said he knew Harvey had the potential to bring “at least 20 inches of rain” to the Southeast Texas-Southwest Lousiana region. After Harvey came ashore in Rockport as a hurricane, it was predicted to move and bring rain into central Texas.
But then the storm circled back and came to Southeast Texas, flooding Houston on Saturday, August 26. The storm brought the heavy rain to Orange County on Tuesday, August 29. In the early morning hours of Wednesday, August 30, people were trapped in their homes with water up to their waists or higher. Some places in the Lakeview area along the Neches River on the west side of the county had water up to roofs.
Erickson said Harvey had weakened into a tropical storm, which caused it to stall over this area. “In general, the stronger the storm, the more easily it is to steer” by atmospheric winds, he said. “When it became a weak tropical storm, wind currents don’t steer it. It meanders around.”
Harvey spent hours over the county.
Judge Carlton said the county has requested that FEMA set up a disaster recovery center in Orange County to help local citizens. He said FEMA representatives “kind of popped in the Emergency Operations Center” but have not been with people affected by the flood.
The county is currently working with the Red Cross to get Orange County people sent to out-of-town shelters back to the county. The two shelters first set up in the county had to be closed because they flooded, he said. One group of evacuees is in north Texas and another group is in Louisiana. “They want to come back,” he said.
The main courthouse had water in the basement. Mechanical equipment operating HVAC systems were moved out of the basement and elevated after Hurricane Ike in 2008. Carlton said rain blew through window sills in the main courthouse. Some of the offices in the courthouse will be opening in other sites. For instance, the district attorney’s staff will be at the Expo Center on FM 1442.
He said the courthouse will open when it’s “safe and healthy for our employees to go in.”
Carlton said the administration building, across from the main courthouse, had a leak in a roof but was not damaged much. Offices there, including the tax office, opened on Tuesday.
The sheriff’s office had a leaky ceiling and walls in administrative offices, but no rain water was in the jail. Inmates were not evacuated during the flood.
“This was an unprecedented event,” the judge said. He cited the Cajun Navy, National Guard, church groups, the Salvation Army and others for coming to help.
“I am really proud of Orange County neighbors helping,” he said.
Even with the widespread damage, the judge is optimistic. “It’s a terrible thing to go through, but we recovered after Rita, we recovered after Ike and we’re going to recover after Harvey.”
Wednesday on The Morning Show, Stelly has interviews set up with Capt. Keith Longlois with OPD, OC Sheriff Keith Merritt, Asst. Supt. LCMCISD Greg Perry, and Father Jim Sichko.