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Tropical Storm Imelda expected to relieve parched Piney Woods

Tropical Depression Imelda is expected to dump 4 to 6 inches of rain in Longview through Friday and relieve the parched Piney Woods after a summer of drought, according to the National Weather Service in Shreveport. And life-threatening flash flooding also is a threat.

The weather service forecast said showers and thunderstorms are likely tonight in Longview, with a 70% chance of precipitation through tonight and Friday, dipping to 20% after Friday night. The storm was expected to arrive Wednesday night.

With the rain, a relief from the heat also is expected, the weather service said. The high today for Longview is predicted as only 82 degrees, with a low tonight of 71. Temperatures are forecast to gradually rise to a high of 88 degrees by Sunday in Longview.

Imelda developed Tuesday near coastal Texas and will continue a slow northward track, bringing 5 to 10 inches of rain across East Texas into western Louisiana, with isolated storm totals as high as 20 to 25 inches, the weather service posted Wednesday at weather.gov . Heavy rains also are likely to produce “significant to life-threatening flash flooding” across East Texas into western Louisiana, the weather service said.

“We are not anticipating flooding (in the Longview area), because it has been so dry,” weather service meteorologist Aaron Davis said. “However, flash flooding is a completely different deal,” more likely to occur in low-lying and urban areas.

While rains could raise the level of the Sabine River slightly, Davis said he does not see a threat of flooding because the river was only 2.5 feet high downstream of Longview on Wednesday, far below flood stage at 25 feet.

He said the additional rainfall also is likely to bring the summer rainfall totals to normal.

Longview registered 4.04 inches from the start of summer on June 21, less than half the summer average of 9.21 inches and the 8.8 inches recorded during the summer of 2018, according to data supplied by Davis and meteorologist Mario Valverde. Only 0.05 inches was recorded Wednesday as of 4.40 p.m., Valverde said.

But despite the dry summer, Longview has recorded 37.04 inches so far this year as of Wednesday morning, which is higher than the normal average of 32.45 inches and 2018’s comparison of 32.01 inches, Davis said.

The precipitation is higher than normal because Longview enjoyed an usually wet spring, said Davis and fellow weather service meteorologist Aaron Stevens. Davis said Longview recorded 25.34 inches during spring, more than double the spring average of 10.94 inches and 11.29 inches from 2018.

“It was definitely an above-average spring,” Davis said. “It was a wet winter, too.”

Stevens agreed.

“We were really, really wet in the spring. We had lots of foliage available to bloom, and all of a sudden, it stopped raining. It got really dry,” he said.

Stevens said the rainfall likely will lead area county courts to lift burn bans.

As of Wednesday, the Texas A&M Forest Service reported 172 of the 254 counties in Texas had imposed burn bans, including Gregg, Harrison, Upshur, Rusk, Smith, Bowie, Cass, Marion and Morris in Northeast Texas.

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said the court will determine where the county falls on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index before deciding whether to lift a ban that went into effect Sept. 4.

“If it drops a considerable amount, we certainly will consider (lifting the ban),” Stoudt said.

Harrison County Fire Marshal Thomas Mock said dry seasons have occurred around mid-July and have lasted until early November.

“Hopefully, we will get enough rain coming pretty soon” to relieve the drought, he said.

The Texas drought monitor website drought.gov on Wednesday said 12.892 million Texans — 51% of the state’s population — are living under drought conditions. The site said another 6.908 million Texans — 28% of the state’s population — are living in abnormally dry areas.

The Texas drought monitor map shows the southern portion of Gregg County and northern part of Rusk County to be in severe drought, along with southern Morris County, western Camp County, southwestern Cass County and small areas of Upshur, Cass and Titus counties.

Longview businessman Dennis “Spike” Bowles, who owns farm and ranch holdings, said the dry summer has affected hay for the winter.

“If we can get the rain, it will be OK,” said Bowles, who raises cattle on a few thousand acres in Gregg and Upshur counties.

Crops such as hay grown in East Texas are accustomed to 4 inches of rain a month, said Calvin Trostle, professor and extension agronomist at the Department of Soil & Crop Sciences at Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center in Lubbock.

“If you’ve got drought and you have a lack of water, you are going to have less growth” for hay, Trostle said. He added he would not be surprised if the yield is half of what would otherwise have grown.


No severe impacts from Imelda as it moves through Texas

HOUSTON — Tropical Depression Imelda has deluged parts of Southeast Texas with rain, but officials in Houston and surrounding communities said Wednesday that so far there have been no severe consequences.

Glenn LaMont, deputy emergency management coordinator in Brazoria County, located south of Houston along the Gulf Coast, said that despite the heavy rainfall he has seen no reports of flooded homes or people stranded. However, he cautioned, “we’ve got two more days to go on this.”

“It’s too early to breathe a sigh of relief,” LaMont said.

By late this afternoon, most of the heaviest showers had moved to the east of Houston, into Beaumont and southwestern Louisiana. But forecasters said the Houston area could still face some heavy rainfall Wednesday night and today.

Parts of East Texas could get up to 10 inches of rain through this morning as the remnants of Imelda continue moving north and away from Houston, according to the National Weather Service.

Coastal counties, including Brazoria, Matagorda and Galveston, got the most rainfall since Imelda formed on Tuesday. Some parts of the Houston area had received nearly 8 inches of rain, while the city of Galveston, which had street flooding, had received nearly 9 inches, according to preliminary rainfall totals released Wednesday afternoon by the National Weather Service.

Sargent, a town of about 2,700 residents in Matagorda County, had received nearly 20 inches of rain since Tuesday.

Karen Romero, who lives with her husband in Sargent, said this was the most rain she has had in her neighborhood in her nine years living there.

“The rain (Tuesday) night was just massive sheets of rain and lightning storms. The lightning looked like it was coming in your house,” said Romero, 57.

Romero said her home, located along a creek, was not in danger of flooding as it sits on stilts, like many others nearby.

In the Houston area, the rainfall flooded some roadways, stranding drivers, and had caused several creeks and bayous to rise to high levels.

“Even though we’ve done well overnight, we haven’t had any significant amounts of flooding or impacts, we can’t let our guard down just yet,” said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist and director of flood operations for the Harris County Flood Control District in Houston.

Many schools in the Houston and Galveston area canceled classes Wednesday. However, the Houston school district, the state’s largest, remained open. At least one school district — Galveston — said it was also canceling classes today.

Imelda, which formed Tuesday, made landfall near Freeport with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.

The National Hurricane Center said Imelda had weakened to a tropical depression and was located about 65 miles north of Houston.

But the National Weather Service said flash flood watches remained in effect through today for southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.

Imelda is the first named storm to impact the Houston area since Hurricane Harvey , according to the National Weather Service. Harvey dumped nearly 50 inches of rain on parts of the flood-prone city in August 2017, flooding more than 150,000 homes in the Houston area and causing an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas.

The National Hurricane Center said Wednesday that Hurricane Humberto in the Atlantic Ocean is posing a stronger threat to Bermuda. The Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph was about 195 miles from Bermuda on Wednesday afternoon.

Tropical Storm Jerry became the 10th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, though it remained far from land Wednesday. Meteorologists also said newly formed Tropical Storm Lorena in the Pacific Ocean could produce heavy rains and flooding in Mexico by today.


Fire-ems
Members of Longview Fire Department's water rescue team to help with tropical storm aftermath

Six members of the Longview Fire Department’s water rescue team have been deployed with the Texas Task Force 1 in response as the remnants of Tropical Depression Imelda dump water on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The six people were deployed Tuesday, according to the Longview Fire Department.

The team was expected to travel to College Station for staging and then to respond where needed.

Flash flood watches are in effect in the Galveston and Houston areas as Imelda’s remains produce heavy rainfall in the area forcing school closures and rock blockages.

In East Texas, Longview is in an area the National Weather Service reports could see between 4 and 6 inches of rain through Friday as what’s left of the former tropical storm makes its way inland.


Trump says deal on guns 'much harder,' blames Beto O'Rourke's comments last week

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday it has become “much harder” to reach a deal with Democrats on gun legislation, blaming a call by former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke for a mandatory buyback program for assault-style weapons.

O’Rourke created one of the most memorable moments of last week’s debate in Houston when he spoke passionately about a need for gun control in the wake of recent mass shootings. “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said, referring to his support for mandatory buybacks of war weapons.

“Dummy Beto made it much harder to make a deal. Convinced many that Dems just want to take your guns away,” Trump said on Twitter, adding: “Will continue forward!”

His tweet comes as Congress waits for Trump to announce what gun-related proposals he would support following a spate of mass shootings, including back-to-back massacres last month in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that Congress remains “in a holding pattern” while awaiting guidance from the White House.

“I’m still waiting for guidance from the White House about what [Trump] is comfortable signing ... and hopefully making some progress,” McConnell said.

Following last week’s debate, O’Rourke said that his buyback plan would be “not voluntary.”

Republicans seized on O’Rourke’s comments, using them to broadly paint Democrats as overly eager to confiscate firearms, while some Democrats suggested the remarks were not helpful in persuading Republicans to embrace more modest changes, such as expanding background checks for gun purchasers.

O’Rourke responded to Trump on Twitter later Wednesday morning, accusing the president of cowardice.

“To be clear: We will buy back every single assault weapon,” he wrote. “We’ll also license every gun & do a background check on every buyer. That’s what the American people want — and deserve. The only thing stopping us from ending this epidemic is you & your cowardice. Do the right thing.”

O’Rourke also reacted on Twitter to a report that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had said other Democrats do not agree with O’Rourke on a mandatory buyback program.

“The party is with us, the country is with us,” O’Rourke tweeted. “Now it’s time for Democrats to lead.”

O’Rourke’s critics have included South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic presidential rival.

Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday whether O’Rourke’s blunt comment was “playing into the hands of Republicans,” Buttigieg said: “Yes.”

“When even this president and even Mitch McConnell are at least pretending to be open to reforms, we know that we have a moment on our hands,” Buttigieg said. “Let’s make the most of it and get these things done.”

O’Rourke responded on Twitter, saying what McConnell and Trump might be interested in “is not enough.”

“Neither is poll-testing your message,” O’Rourke wrote. “Gun violence is a life-or-death issue — and we have to represent the bold ideas of people all over the country.”

Trump’s tweet on Wednesday appears to have been inspired by criticism of O’Rourke on Monday by Fox News host Jesse Watters. Trump included a reference to a Fox News program on which Watters said: “The Democrats have always wanted to take your guns. Beto is the one stupid enough to say it.”

During a television appearance on Wednesday morning, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, another Democratic presidential candidate, said O’Rourke’s views shouldn’t affect the outcome of a congressional debate over gun legislation.

“Beto’s not in Congress, so his opinion shouldn’t have anything to do with it,” Ryan said on CNN.


Number of abortions in U.S. falls to lowest level since 1973

NEW YORK — The number and rate of abortions across the United States have plunged to their lowest levels since the procedure became legal nationwide in 1973, according to figures released Wednesday.

The report from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, counted 862,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2017. That’s down from 926,000 tallied in the group’s previous report for 2014, and from just over 1 million counted for 2011.

Guttmacher is the only entity that strives to count all abortions in the U.S., making inquiries of individual providers. Federal data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention excludes California, Maryland and New Hampshire because those states don’t compile comprehensive abortion data for the CDC.

The new report illustrates that abortions are decreasing in all parts of the country — in Republican-controlled states seeking to restrict abortion access and in Democratic-run states protecting abortion rights. Between 2011 and 2017, abortion rates increased in only five states and the District of Columbia.

One reason for the decline in abortions is that fewer women are becoming pregnant. The Guttmacher Institute noted that the birth rate and the abortion rate declined during the years covered by the new report. A likely factor, the report said, is increased accessibility of contraception since 2011. The Affordable Care Act required most private health insurance plans to cover contraceptives without out-of-pocket costs.

According to the report, the 2017 abortion rate was 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 — the lowest rate since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Following that ruling, the number of abortions in the U.S. rose steadily — peaking at 1.6 million in 1990 before starting a steady, still-continuing decline. The abortion rate is now less than half what is was in 1990.

Guttmacher noted that almost 400 state laws restricting abortion access were enacted between 2011 and 2017. But it said these laws were not the main force behind the overall decline in abortions. It said 57% of the nationwide decline occurred in the 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that did not enact any new restrictions.

Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches social research at Catholic University of America, said Guttmacher’s report understated the role played by anti-abortion activism in reducing the number of abortions. In 1981, he said, 54% of women with unintended pregnancies opted for abortion. That number fell to 42% by 2011.

“This shows that pro-life efforts to change public opinion, assist pregnant women, and pass protective laws are all having an impact,” New said in an email.

Between 2011 and 2017, the number of clinics providing abortion in the U.S. declined from 839 to 808, with significant regional disparities, the report said. The South had a decline of 50 clinics, including 25 in Texas, and the Midwest had a decline of 33 clinics, including nine each in Iowa, Michigan and Ohio. By contrast, the Northeast added 59 clinics, mostly in New Jersey and New York.

Over that period, the abortion rate dropped in Ohio by 27% and in Texas by 30%. But the rate dropped by similar amounts in states that protected abortion access, including California, Hawaii and New Hampshire.

Areas with the highest abortion rates in 2017 were the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Florida. Rates were lowest in Wyoming, South Dakota, Kentucky, Idaho and Missouri — many women from those five states go out of state to obtain abortions .

One significant trend documented in the report: People who have abortions are increasingly relying on medication rather than surgery. Medication abortion, making use of the so-called abortion pill, accounted for 39% of all abortions in 2017, up from 29% in 2014.

The report, which focuses on data from 2017, does not chronicle the flurry of sweeping abortion bans that were enacted earlier this year in several GOP-controlled states, including a near-total ban in Alabama.

and five bills that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. None of those bans has taken effect and their backers hope that litigation over the laws might eventually lead to a Supreme Court ruling weakening or overturning Roe v. Wade.

Guttmacher’s president, Dr. Herminia Palacio, said abortion restrictions, regardless of whether they lead to fewer abortions, “are coercive and cruel by design,” with disproportionate impact on low-income women.

However, the push for tougher restrictions continues. Just last week, Texas Right to Life and some allied groups urged Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session of the Legislature to “abolish every remaining elective abortion” in the state.

The report comes amid upheaval in the federal family planning program, known as Title X. About one in five family planning clinics have left the program, objecting to a Trump administration regulation that bars them from referring women for abortions. Title X clinics provide birth control and basic health services for low-income women.

“If your priority is to reduce abortions, one of the best things you can do is make sure that women have access to high-quality, affordable and effective methods of birth control,” said Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.


Correction

A story on Page 5A Wednesday should have said that the grant for Pine Tree ISD’s Raising Highly Capable Kids program is from the nonprofit organization Rezilient Kidz.