Weather clearing, but search continues for Texas flood victim

Sunday, July 8, 2007
Street flooding choked Palmer Highway, the main east-west artery through Texas City, Texas, at 34th Street on Friday following heavy midday rains. (STEVE UECKERT ~ Houston Chronicle)

DALLAS -- The sky was mercifully clear over much of Texas on Saturday after three weeks of drenching rain, as search teams combed the swollen Trinity River for a missing rafter.

The death toll from storms that have battered Texas since last month climbed to 15 with the recovery of two other flood victims elsewhere in the state.

The 26-year-old missing man was on a rubber raft that capsized Friday on the Trinity.

"We don't know if he's still trapped in that low-head dam or whether he went downstream," Fort Worth fire department spokesman Kent Worley said.

A companion had to swim about 300 yards against the swift current to safety, but Worley said that man never saw his friend after their raft flipped. Neither man wore a life jacket.

Elsewhere across the region, rivers in Oklahoma and Kansas have been receding, revealing millions of dollars in damage to thousands of homes and businesses, besides the 1,000 or so damaged in Texas. Authorities found a man believed to be the flood's first fatality in Kansas.

In hard-hit Coffeyville, Kan., authorities have revoked all privileges for residents who had been allowed back into their homes earlier in the week and again restricted access to the east side of the city of 16,000 people because of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria in the floodwater. Emergency workers have reported experiencing rashes and diarrhea.

On Saturday, President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration for Oklahoma, freeing federal funds to aid two counties ravaged by the flooding.

Along the Oklahoma-Texas state line, Lake Texoma had reached the top of a 640-foot-high concrete spillway Saturday, with waves lapping over the top, the Army Corps of Engineers said.

The corps has been pumping an estimated 27,000 cubic feet of water per second into the Red River to help control the lake's level.

The lake, with a normal level of 619 feet, is expected to crest about 6 inches higher than the spillway Monday.

There was only a 20 to 30 percent chance of storms in Oklahoma on Saturday and Sunday, forecaster Erin Maxwell said early Saturday.

"The activity over the weekend probably wouldn't impact Lake Texoma levels too dramatically, but there's another low pressure system coming next week," Maxwell said. "That's just the way the weather pattern has been this year."

In South Texas, the body of a 6-year-old boy swept away by the swollen Brazos River was found Friday on a beach about 15 miles from where he was washed into the Gulf of Mexico, said Freeport Police Chief Jeff Pynes.

The boy was at a family gathering on Bryan Beach, where the Brazos River feeds into the Gulf of Mexico about 60 miles south of Houston, when members of the group were swept away on the river, Pynes said. The boy's father and another relative were rescued clinging to trees Tuesday.

The Brazos was carrying everything from cars to refrigerators to trees, and the current was strong it was pushing 20 miles out into the Gulf on Friday, officials said.

The river is "in really bad shape and very, very dangerous," Pynes said.

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