Flooding forces more evacuations in southern Texas

Monday, July 8, 2002

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas -- From the air Sunday, Gov. Rick Perry saw firsthand the devastation days of torrential rain have brought to central and southern Texas: houses surrounded by a sea of roiling, muddy water, uprooted trees and overturned vehicles.

And the bad news just kept coming. Floodwater that devastated the San Antonio area spilled into even more houses Sunday as it flowed toward the Gulf of Mexico.

"The devastation is extensive," the governor said after his helicopter tour. "Obviously when the water goes down we're going to see the impact on residential property is going to be substantial."

About 160 miles to the north, residents of Brownwood frantically piled sandbags around homes and businesses as water rushed through downtown. Lake Brownwood was 7.65 feet above its spillway Sunday and was expected to crest overnight a foot or more higher.

The governor said Sunday the death toll from the week of flooding had risen to 12, up from eight. The flooding has been blamed for tens of millions of dollars in property damage. In some places, rivers have crested as high as 28 feet above flood stage.

Perry said he would seek federal aid for 17 counties. President Bush has already declared 13 Texas counties federal disaster areas.

Also Sunday, forecasters said the first tropical depression of the season could be forming in the Gulf of Mexico with the potential for additional rain in Texas.

Foot of rainfall

Severe flooding hit the Abilene area following an unexpected storm that dumped a foot of rain Saturday. Most evacuees began returning to waterlogged homes Sunday.

Meanwhile in Brownwood, about 75 miles southeast of Abilene, about 3 feet of water lapped up against dozens of motels, restaurants, drugstores and shopping centers.

"It'll hurt this area because it'll take several days for the water to recede," City Manager Gary Butts said.

In south-central Texas, where more than 30 inches of rain fell in places last week, water levels were dropping in the Hill Country and San Antonio.

In areas where evacuees were returning, the overflowing rivers were still a threat, said William Ayres, a spokesman for the Texas Division of Emergency Management in Austin.

"It's still a very dangerous situation," Ayres said Sunday.

Residents of New Braunfels found varying degrees of water and mud in their houses.

While some used kayak paddles to scrap the mud away, others carted it off in wheelbarrows. Ripped out carpets rested in mounds on driveways along the Guadalupe River.

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