HOUSTON - Nicholas weakened to a tropical depression as it crawled from Texas into southern Louisiana on Wednesday, unleashing heavy rain across a landscape where Hurricane Ida just weeks ago destroyed thousands of rooftops now covered with tarps.
On Tuesday morning, half a million customers were without power in Southeast Texas, and utility companies were still working to restore electricity to tens of thousands of customers on Wednesday.
Some school districts remained closed on Wednesday due to power outages and cleanup needed after the storm.
HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 14: Debris and damaged road construction are left after Tropical Storm Nicholas moved through the area on September 14, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Tropical Storm Nicholas strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane as it made landf
With tropical depression Nicholas drifting into southwest Louisiana, the Houston area will be on the drier side of the circulation on Wednesday. There is still low-level moisture that will allow some patchy drizzle through the day Wednesday.
Heavy rain from Nicholas will continue to bring a flooding threat to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Forecasters said Nicholas would slow to a stall over central Louisiana through Thursday, with plenty of water still to dump east of its center, drenching the Gulf Coast as far as the western Florida Panhandle.
Southeast Louisiana faced the biggest flooding threat, and Gov. John Bel Edwards warned people to take it seriously.
"This is a very serious storm, particularly in those areas that were so heavily impacted by Hurricane Ida," Edwards said.
Forecasters warned people along the central Gulf Coast that up to 20 inches are possible through Friday in places across a region still recovering from Category 4 hurricanes — Ida weeks ago and Laura last year.
Galveston, Texas, recorded nearly 14 inches of rain from Nicholas, the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, while Houston reported more than 6 inches.
The New Orleans office of the National Weather Service said late Tuesday that as much as 10 inches of rain could fall in parts of Louisiana, with some areas seeing particularly intense periods of 2 to 3 inches of rainfall per hour.
In the small Louisiana community of Pointe-aux-Chenes, Ida peeled open the tin roof of Terry and Patti Dardar’s home, leaving them without power and water for more than two weeks since. Nicholas made the damage that much worse, soaking the upstairs. But it also provided them with badly needed water, which their son Terren and grandchildren collected in jugs and poured into a huge plastic container through a strainer. From there, a pump powered by a generator brought the water inside.
His mom, Patti, said the family didn’t have anywhere else to go after Ida, so members were doing their best during Nicholas.
"We ain’t got no other place," she said. "This is our home."
Gov. Edwards noted that 95,000 electric customers were still without power more than two weeks after Ida hit. And he said the new storm could mean some who had regained power might lose it again. Homes already badly damaged by Ida were not yet repaired to the extent that they could withstand heavy rain, Edwards added.
Energy companies working to restore power to remaining areas in Louisiana said Wednesday that they were watching Nicholas closely but didn’t expect it to affect their restoration times.
A spokesman for Entergy Louisiana said Nicholas so far has not caused any delays to previously announced times to restore power. Crews cannot operate when lightning is within 10 miles and can’t put bucket trucks in the air at winds greater than 30 mph, said Jerry Nappi. But once conditions improve they would quickly resume work.
Joe Ticheli, manager and CEO of South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association, said rain really doesn’t stop the linemen, who are outfitted with slicker suits and grit.
"These are tough guys, and they relish all of this," he said. The coop services about 21,000 customers across five parishes including parts of the hard-hit Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. Ticheli said the coop has returned power to about 75% of its customers with the remaining 25% mostly in the hardest-hit parts of southern Terrebonne parish.
In the weather-battered city of Lake Charles, in southwestern Louisiana, Mayor Nic Hunter said ahead of Nicholas the city prepositioned assets should they be needed, and city crews scoured the drainage system to keep it free from debris that might cause clogs and flooding.
Lake Charles has been hammered. Hurricane Laura caused substantial structural damage across the city of nearly 80,000 residents. Weeks later Hurricane Delta ripped through the same area. Freezing temperatures in January burst pipes across the city, and then a May rainstorm swamped houses and businesses yet again.
The mayor says he’s naturally worried about how his people are coping.
"With what people have gone through over the last 16 months here in Lake Charles, they are very, understandably, despondent, emotional. Any time we have even a hint of a weather event approaching, people get scared," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.