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Texas declares flooding disaster areas

/ Source: The Associated Press

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday declared nine southeast Texas counties disaster areas after flooding forced dozens of people from their homes, including some residents that have been living in temporary FEMA trailers since Hurricane Rita struck last year.

The Neches River, overflowing from last week's heavy rains, was nearly 8 feet above flood stage. Though the water did drop about by about 2 inches Monday, the flood-stage levels were expected to remain through Thursday, said Jeff Kelley, Orange County emergency management coordinator.

The Sabine River also was out of its banks, cresting at 27.9 feet. In Deweyville in Newton County, the river was just two short steps from the front porch of Ruth Johnson. Normally, it is 25 feet away.

Johnson wasn't leaving.

"I love it here, flood and all," she said in a story in Tuesday's Beaumont Enterprise. "I can stand this. As long as it doesn't get in the house, I'm comfortable."

Perry said he planned to seek federal assistance for Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Newton, Orange, Polk, San Jacinto and Tyler counties.

With the remnants of Hurricane Paul possibly bringing more rain to the area in the coming days, Perry also ordered that the "appropriate state agencies be on standby for search, rescue and recovery efforts" for the already drenched area.

Robert Black, a spokesman for Perry, said that Texas Task Force 1 was placed on alert and the state's assets were being organized.

"We need to get ready in case by the end of the week Paul is parked over Texas," he said.

Kelley said about 40 homes in the region were thought to have been destroyed as of Sunday. About 60 other homes were damaged, county officials said.

At least three county road bridges have been washed out in Newton County, said County Judge Truman Dougharty.

Hardin County Judge Billy Caraway estimated at least 100 homes had been damaged in the flooding. The Neches River and Pine Island Bayou flow through portions of the county just to the northwest of Orange County. Caraway told the Enterprise that the costs of damages could reach $4 million.

Kelley said the damage in Orange County varied. Some homes along the river were built on stilts while others sit on the ground, he said, so some homes had water to the roof line while others may have 2 feet of water in them.

The area was hard hit when Rita came ashore last year, and Kelley said there were still a number of Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers in the area.

The hardest hit areas were the communities of Lakeview, Connely Road and Four Oaks Ranch Road north of Vidor, about 90 miles east of Houston. All Interstate 10 ramps between Beaumont and Vidor were closed, as was the access road in the same area, he said.

Heavy rains saturated portions of Southeast Texas last week and have been working their way downstream into the Neches and Sabine.

Schools in Deweyville were to remain closed through at least Tuesday.