Record Rain, Rivers Rage: Fleeing People Evacuated By Boats, Copter Between San Antonio And Austin
[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated throughout Sunday, and has been last updated at 1:45 a.m Central time, Monday].
By early Monday morning, it was known that record rainfall wreaked havoc across a swath of the Plains and Midwest on Sunday, causing flash floods in normally dry riverbeds, spawning tornadoes and forcing at least 2,000 people in Texas from their homes.
Tornados struck, severely damaging an apartment complex in Houston. A firefighter in Oklahoma was swept to his death while trying to rescue 10 people in high water and a woman in Tulsa died in a weather-related traffic crash. In Texas, a man’s body was recovered from a flooded area along the Blanco River, which rose 26 feet in just one hour and left piles of wreckage 20 feet high, authorities said.
Following continual heavy rains in Central Texas, the Blanco had swamped sections of I-35 on Sunday, forcing parts of the busy north-south highway to close and needing rescue personnel to use pontoon boats and helicopters to evacuate people overnight.
That and more flooding caused power lines to come down and pose dangerous threats on flooded roads across the region, where hundreds of homes have gone under water, and families have spent Memorial Day weekend in evacuation shelters, listing those missing.
In badly affected Hays County, where the Blanco River — with a flood stage of 13 feet — crested at almost 42 feet, one person has reportedly died and three people are missing, more than a 1,000 homes have been damaged and reports indicate that between 300-400 houses are under water. Hays County Judge, Dr. Bert Cobb, issued a disaster notification, and a release from the Sheriff’s office stated that a nighttime curfew would be in effect for the City of San Marcos and its extraterritorial area, the City of Wimberley and all unincorporated areas of Hays County from 9 p.m. Sunday to 7 a.m Monday.
“It looks pretty bad out there," said Hays County emergency management coordinator Kharley Smith, describing the destruction in Wimberley, a community that is part of a fast-growing corridor between Austin and San Antonio. "We do have whole streets with maybe one or two houses left on them and the rest are just slabs,” she said, confirming late Sunday that three people from Wimberley still weren’t accounted for.
On Sunday afternoon, Texas Public Radio’s Brent Boller, who lives in the area, sent in the picture of his backyard that’s alongside this story, and said this: “The force of the high water stripped the bark of the tree in the distance. The Blanco River in Wimberley crested at 41.5 feet and nearly 350 homes in Wimberley are under water, while about 300 residents have gone to shelters. This is my backyard in Wimberley, which sits right on the Blanco River.”
In San Antonio, Texas’ second largest city, the famed River Walk had water gushing down it, as had the area around the Texas zoo. By late Sunday night, that number had dropped from 16 at noon Sunday to four (you can go here for live updates on road closures).
The Corpus Christi Caller Times reported on Sunday evening that eight Corpus residents, including members of former Nueces County Commissioner, Joe McComb’s family, were still unaccounted for. McComb had confirmed earlier Sunday that his son Jonathan was at Brooks Army Medical Center with serious injuries, and that his daughter-in-law Laura, 33, and two young grandchildren, 6 year-old Andrew, and 4-year-old Leighton, are among those unaccounted for. Jonathan and Laura McComb were visiting friends when the house they were in was swept away, the five members of that family are all missing too. Jonathan McComb was found later by a search and rescue crew.
Caldwell County county Judge Ken Schawe declared a state of emergency and issued a mandatory evacuation order along low-lying areas near the San Marcos River. A flood warning was also issued for the Guadalupe River. The Guadalupe and Comal Rivers were closed for water recreation (tubing) Sunday.
Water at Canyon Lake stood at at 917 feet, eight feet above normal. According to USGS data, the last time the lake was at or above normal level of 909 was in October 2010. The Army Corps of Engineers will not be releasing any water from the dam. A number of parks and boat ramps in the area remain closed, making Memorial Day weekend very strange, at best, and heartbreaking, at worst, for many Texan families.
Dallas also faced severe flooding from the Trinity River, which was expected to crest near 40 feet Monday and lap at the foundations of an industrial park. The Red and Wichita rivers also rose far above flood stage.
Heather Ruiz returned from work early Sunday to ankle-deep water and a muddy couch inside her home in San Marcos. She wasn’t sure what to do next. “Pick up the pieces and start all over I guess. Salvage what can be salvaged and replace what needs to be replaced,” Ruiz said.
This May is already the wettest on record for several cities in the southern Plains states, with days still to go and more rain on the way. So far this year, Oklahoma City has recorded 27.37 inches of rain. Last year the state's capital got only 4.29 inches.
The reasons include a prolonged warming of Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures, which generally results in cooler air, coupled with an active southern jet stream and plentiful moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, said Meteorologist Forrest Mitchell at National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma.
“It looks like the rainfall that we're getting now may actually officially end the drought,” that has gripped the southern Plains states for years, Mitchell said, noting that moisture now reaches about two feet below the surface of the soil and many lakes and reservoirs are full.
Wichita Falls was so dry at one point that that it had to get Texas regulatory approval to recycle and treat its wastewater as drinking water dried up. By Sunday, the city reached a rainfall record, nearly 14 inches so far in May.
Some parts of Texas have seen up to 10 inches of rain in 24 hours, and the waters continue to overwhelm communities. Dozens of high-water rescues in Central Texas were reported overnight as the Blanco and other swollen waterways breached their banks and residents early Sunday fled their homes.
On Sunday morning, a central Texas resident said rescue personnel used pontoon boats and a helicopter to evacuate people overnight as floodwaters quickly surrounded their homes.
Sixty-two-year-old Rudy Olivo said rescue crews came through his neighborhood along the banks of the Blanco River about 2:30 a.m. Sunday.
Olivo said water came to the top of the steps leading to his home in San Marcos, which is about halfway between San Antonio and Austin. Other homes in his neighborhood were flooded and many roads in the area were under water. He said it was the worst flooding he’s seen because “the water rose so fast.”
Forecasts call for the rain to continue Sunday in the region and be heavy at times Monday, with continued threats of flash flooding.
In Houston, high winds damaged rooftops, blew out windows, and blew over trees at an apartment complex, and two people were injured. Houston fire officials initially said a possible tornado had struck the complex at about 6:30 a.m. Sunday, but later said in a news release that the damage was caused by “severe weather.”
Authorities said about 10 apartments were heavily damaged and 40 others sustained some. The two injured residents were taken to a hospital. The extent of their injuries wasn’t immediately clear.
Emergency crews searched the complex for people trapped inside but it was believed residents made it out once severe weather passed.
A mandatory evacuation has been issued for residents in an area north of Houston because authorities are concerned heavy rains may cause a dam to fail.
The evacuation area is between Lake Conroe and nearby Lake Lewis, about 50 miles north of Houston. The Montgomery County Emergency Management office said in a statement Sunday that the dam on Lake Lewis remains intact.
The area received rain overnight and the National Weather Service expects another 2 to 3 inches through Sunday along with damaging winds. Up to 4 inches of rains could fall Monday.
Montgomery County officials say a Red Cross shelter is open in Montgomery to assist residents who have been evacuated.
Aerial view of flooding in San Marcos, looking at the area near the Walmart on Texas 80 east of Interstate 35. At least 1,000 people are in shelters in Wimberley and San Marcos, officials said in a news conference Sunday morning. At least 400 homes in the two communities have been destroyed and many more are damaged, officials said. Video by Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman. Follow statesman.com for updates #statesmanvideo #txweather #txflood #smtxflood #sanmarcosflood #sanmarcos #hayscounty #flood #smtx A video posted by Austin American-Statesman (@statesman) on May 24, 2015 at 9:56am PDT
Oklahoma Still Under Siege
Authorities in northeast Oklahoma say a firefighter for the city of Claremore has died after being swept away by floodwaters while assisting in a water rescue from a house.
Rogers County Emergency Management spokesman Thomas Hudson says the firefighter died early Sunday morning. The man was standing in some water during the rescue, lost his footing and was swept away. The firefighter’s name has not been released.
The flooding is due to days of heavy rain throughout the state, especially in the southwest part, as well as Oklahoma City and Norman. Hudson says the Claremore area is expecting more rain Sunday.
Authorities in Oklahoma and Texas say they have been conducting numerous rescues of residents from flooding areas. In Oklahoma, authorities in Cleveland and Comanche counties say in news releases that they also have assisted with rescues after flooding, including people trapped in their attics and on their roofs.
On Saturday night, a music festival, officials with the Rocklahoma festival in Pryor, about 50 miles west of Tulsa, urged attendees around 9 p.m. to head to their cars or the nearby camping area to wait out the incoming weather. They later stressed the campgrounds were not being evacuated.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation says at least 15 highways have been closed across the state due to high water from the recent flooding. It also caused damage to a gas station and mall in Oklahoma City.
Evacuation orders have been issued in Elk City, Oklahoma, and Wichita Falls, Texas, amid warnings from the National Weather Service about potentially historic flooding.
The powerful storm that flooded roads across much of Oklahoma Sunday night also has caused major damage at a gas station in the state capital of Oklahoma City.
KOCO-TV reports heavy winds peeled the roof off a Shell station and caused other damage. Motorists were stranded on a nearby road due to flooding. The station reports city fire officials received 80 high-water calls over a two-hour period. Flood water got inside one mall in the city and nearly covered cars in the parking lot of another.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation said at least 15 highways have been closed across the state.