Waters in flooded Texas city slowly recede

Monday, July 8, 2002

Associated Press WriterBROWNWOOD, Texas (AP) -- As murky water lapped against sandbags piled in front of restaurants, motels and gas stations, residents hoped desperately it wouldn't rise.

A 2-square-mile swath of downtown was already under 3 to 4 feet of water Sunday afternoon. Lake Brownwood was rising to a record 7.7 feet above the spillway, and it was expected to crest Monday at 9 feet.

Then the unexpected happened.

The lake that feeds Pecan Bayou, which runs through the town's business district, slowly started receding. It was at 7 feet above spillway by Sunday night.

It was a bit of good news for this community of 20,000 people bracing for a repeat of floods that devastated the town more than a decade ago.

"This will be bad, but I sure hope not like we saw back in '90," said Mel Robertson, who tried to get a glimpse of the saturated roads downtown but was turned away at a roadblock, along with dozens of other drivers. "I never thought I'd see this much flooding again. And I never wanted to."

More than 30 inches of rain fell in parts of south-central Texas during the week, causing tens of millions of dollars in property damage. Eight people have died.

Some 150 miles to the south in flood-ravaged New Braunfels, residents returned to their homes to survey the devastation left by the Guadalupe River. Soggy carpets were piled on driveways in one neighborhood.

Fred Maxwell's home, the only one left standing from a 1998 flood, withstood the latest flooding as well. At the height of the flooding, it had 3 feet of water on its second floor.

"We're going to stay, I'm sure," Maxwell said, then hesitated. "I'm at least going to rebuild. I can't sell it like this."

Preliminary damage assessments show at least 48,000 houses have been affected statewide, according to the American Red Cross. In some places, rivers have crested as high as 28 feet above flood stage.

Thirteen Texas counties have been declared federal disaster areas by President Bush. Gov. Rick Perry, who took a helicopter tour of the swollen Guadalupe River, asked for declarations Sunday for a total of 17 counties.

The Guadalupe and other rivers originating in Texas' Hill Country were flooding cities and croplands downstream along a low-lying coastal plain leading to the Gulf of Mexico.

Flooding was reported at Gonzales on the Guadalupe and was expected Monday at Cuero. Some residents in San Patricio were out of their homes because of high waters from the Nueces River.

Flood waters started receding Sunday in Abilene, Buffalo Gap and other West Texas towns hit by a thunderstorm early Saturday. More than 1,500 people had been evacuated.

B.J. Flynn, 70, waited Sunday at a temporary shelter at the Abilene Civic Center for word on whether her street had reopened. She said she didn't care about the condition of her home because her 7-year-old poodle, Chris, was at her side.

"I told them, 'Wherever I go, that dog goes,"' Flynn said. "Do you think I'd abandon that little thing? Not on your life. He's been the best dog here."

Brownwood didn't get much rain, but the Saturday morning downpour in the hills south of Abilene flowed south into Lake Coleman and then into Jim Ned Creek, which feeds Lake Brownwood.

The water started spilling onto city roads about daybreak Sunday, authorities said.

Some business owners had time to pile sandbags in front of doors and remove merchandise. Brown County Courthouse officials moved files and documents to higher floors. Some car dealership lots were empty Sunday.

The flooding likely won't completely recede for several days, said Brownwood City Manager Gary Butts.

Brownwood's worst flood was in April 1990, when storms quickly dumped 17 inches. Dozens of businesses were damaged and costs exceeded $1 million.

In December 1991, a flood caused by the overflowing watershed from rains in nearby towns cost Brownwood about $700,000 in damage, officials said.

The city then worked with state engineers to widen and deepen Adams Branch creek, a $4.6 million project that officials say has prevented several floods since it was finished in 1994.

"We simply made the bathtub bigger, and it holds more water," Butts said. "There's nothing we can do with flooding of this magnitude. It's supposed to happen once every 100 years. This is simply an act of God."

------On the Net:

Emergency Management Association of Texas http://www.emat-tx.org

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