Wednesday, May 27, 2015
At Least 19 Die After Storms in Texas and Oklahoma
A third body was found near the Blanco River in Texas Tuesday, bringing the death toll in that state and in Oklahoma to at least 19 after weekend storms dumped rain on the region and caused devastating floods.
Fourteen people are missing in Texas, including eight members of two families that were staying in a vacation home that was swept away by a tsunami-like "wall of water" that roared down the Blanco River in Wimberley over the weekend following a wave of torrential rain, Hays County Commissioner Will Conley said.
The National Weather Service said that more rain could be on the way for hard-hit parts of Texas, with a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms for the Houston area through 1 a.m. Wednesday.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the communities that have been affected by some of these devastating, record-breaking floods," President Barack Obama said Tuesday. Obama pledged federal assistance to the region.
Search-and-rescue operations were continuing, on land and from air, across a landscape where centuries-old trees had been ripped away by the 44-foot storm surge. "It looks like a savannah," Conley said.
At least 12 people died in Texas, authorities said, including a 14-year-old boy in Desoto who was found in a storm drain, and Alyssa Ramirez, an 18-year-old homecoming queen whose car was swept off the road as she returned home from prom in Devine on Sunday, authorities said.
Four of the deaths in Texas were in Houston, the city's government said in a statement. One of the dead is believed to have been one of three people who are missing after being swept away when a boat capsized during a rescue effort, but that had not been confirmed by Tuesday night.
Texas official: Search and rescue in effect
By Tuesday afternoon three bodies have been found near the Blanco River in Hays and nearby Caldwell counties, which flooded over the weekend and swept away the home. Authorities said identification is pending, and described them as two men and one woman.
The missing in Hays County range from 4 to 81 years old, and were last seen in the area of the Blanco River, the Hays County Sheriff's Office said. Earlier Tuesday 13 people were reported missing in Hays County, but two of those were found safe, bringing the number down to 11, authorities said.
There have been seven weather-related deaths in Oklahoma since Friday, including a Claremore firefighter who died during a water rescue, and a 33-year-old woman who died in a storm-related traffic crash in Tulsa.
A 48-year-old woman in Oklahoma was killed Monday after a tornado struck Bryan County, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said.
The floodwaters affected virtually every part of Houston and paralyzed some areas. Firefighters carried out more than 500 water rescues, most involving stranded motorists. At least 2,500 vehicles were abandoned by drivers seeking higher ground, officials said.
Texas Floods: Two Families Missing After Vacation Home Swept Away
"Given the magnitude and how quickly it happened, in such a short period of time, I've never seen this before," said Rick Flanagan, Houston's emergency management coordinator.
By Tuesday evening, all bayous and creeks except for a portion of the San Jacinto River returned to their banks after some areas of the Harris County was hit with up to 11 inches of rain, the Harris County Flood Control District said.
Power remained out for more than 25,000 customers in the Houston area by 8 p.m. Tuesday, down from a high of 88,000 outages early Tuesday morning, CenterPoint Energy said.
Seventy homes were destroyed in Hays County and another 1,400 properties were damaged. If not for a phone notification system, "God knows how many people we would have lost," Conley said.
In Houston, officials believe the number of severely damaged homes could reach 4,000.
There is the possibility of more showers for parts of southeast Texas, including Houston. Storms are expected to be scattered, but a cell could produce flash flooding in Houston if a storm forms over already-inundated areas, the NWS said.
Texas Officials: 44 Foot Wall of Water 'Destroyed Everything in its Path'
Houston Intercontinental Airport smashed its all-time record for most rainfall in one day on Monday — its 4.34 inches almost doubling the previous milestone set in 1946.
"The rain just kept coming, and coming, and coming," said Ashley Aivles, a 25-year-old call center worker who struggled to make it back to her home in a Houston suburb early Tuesday.
All Houston MTERO rail and bus services were canceled until flood waters receded. Limited rail service resumed at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, and buses on major lines began running in the afternoon, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County said.
Texas, Oklahoma and southwestern Kansas have been experiencing extreme drought conditions for the past five years. That left the soil "like concrete," which typically exacerbates flooding conditions, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.
But the latest round of flooding in Texas and Oklahoma can be attributed to sustained rainfall, including the equivalent of 12 to 16 inches above normal falling in the past 30 days, Svoboda said.
"The soil is too full. It's oversaturated with water," he said. "There's been too much, too soon, after you've had so little for such a long period of time."
— with Erik Ortiz and Jon Schuppe
The Associated Press contributed to this report.