Central Texas faces high risk of flooding
Even as it slowed to a tropical storm, Harvey brought rain and powerful winds Saturday to Central Texas, snapping power lines, downing trees and raising the specter of flooding in the coming days.
As the monster storm tore through the coast, parts of the Austin area received up to 8 inches of rain by Saturday evening, and wind gusts of 45 mph hit the region, according to the National Weather Service. Austin Energy received about 90 reports of tree limbs on wires. There were intermittent power outages.
Bastrop County issued a disaster declaration Saturday as more than 8 inches of rain had fallen in some areas and more was expected. Travis and Williamson counties remained under a flash flood watch, Hays County was under a tropical storm warning, and several flood warnings have also been issued for isolated areas near rivers and creeks.
And as the days go on, and the rain continues to fall, flooding could become a significant threat.
“I, in my career, have never worked an event that has had
this threat of flooding for so long,” said Paul Yura, a National Weather Service meteorologist in New Braunfels.
The problem was that the storm had parked itself just west of Cuero — about 100 miles south of Austin — and wasn’t expected to move much during the next 24 hours. Meteorologists had started to worry about the accumulation of rain and how that might trigger widespread flooding.
Flood threat higher overnight
Forecasters believe Harvey will slouch through the southern end of Central Texas through Wednesday. During that time, they expect 8 to 12 inches of rain to fall in Austin.
Areas closer to the Gulf Coast could face flood-related devastation. Weather service models showed major flooding along the San Marcos, Brazos, Guadalupe, Colorado and Brazos rivers. Yura said meteorologists were worried about overnight rains. Systems such as Harvey have more intense rainfalls after sundown.
“We are really going to have to be on alert for a nighttime core event,” Yura said. “That is our fear right now. I hope it doesn’t happen, but history shows that it happens often.”
Onion Creek in Travis County was under a flood warning, the weather service said, and is expected to reach flood stage about 7 p.m. Sunday.
Barton Creek is projected to reach flood stage at 1 a.m. Monday. A flash flood watch is in effect for Travis County until 7 p.m. Wednesday.
On Saturday, winds rose to 35 mph with gusts to 45 mph but were expected to drop steadily in intensity. Forecasters predicted it would stay breezy Sunday with 20 to 25 mph gusts likely.
In Bastrop, the Colorado River is expected to reach major flood stage of 29 feet by Sunday evening. Major flood stage means that some homes and bridges are likely to be affected by the high water. County Judge Paul Pape said the Bastrop disaster declaration was made to “alleviate human suffering and protect property.”
“This declaration will allow Bastrop County to participate in additional state and federal assistance. It also provides for mandatory evacuations if that should become necessary,” he said.
Bastrop County’s Office of Emergency Management is asking residents who live in homes prone to flooding to voluntarily evacuate. The Smithville Recreation Center, 106 Gazely St., is serving as an emergency shelter for the county’s residents.
Travis County and Austin officials said Saturday they are prepared for multiple days of drenching rain. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said Saturday afternoon that no plans had been made for evacuations, but that could change suddenly if flash flooding begins.
Shelter from storm
Melissa Bamba was among those staying at the city’s hurricane evacuee shelter at Delco Center on Saturday night. The minute Bamba heard “immediate mandatory evacuation,” there was no more teeter-tottering about whether to leave Victoria on Thursday. Her decision was made.
“Hearing some of the news reports of how bad it was going to be, we just didn’t want to be stuck,” Bamba said. “Thinking about Katrina, we didn’t want to be those people on our roof or stranded somewhere.”
Bamba packed up as much of her belongings as she could, gathered her son and grandson and pointed the car north, not even sure yet where they would land — just anywhere beyond the wrath of Hurricane Harvey.
On Friday, they were one of the first families to be let into the Austin shelter. On Saturday, she was among about 140 people at the facility, said Red Cross of Central Texas spokesman Geof Sloan. Its capacity is 350 people. By midafternoon, American Red Cross employees and volunteers were preparing to take more people in. Another shelter was being prepared at LBJ High School.
More than 1,000 people trained to help volunteer with the Red Cross at such shelters. Of those volunteers, 800 were from Austin.
On Saturday, children ran and played soccer between aisles of cots in the large gymnasium. Adults pulled up folding chairs to sit and chat with family members and new evacuee friends. Cats and dogs slept quietly in an animal area staffed by Austin Animal Center volunteers.
Bamba said she planned to write the city a letter when she returned home to thank Austin for its hospitality.
Marty McKellips, CEO of the Central and South Texas Region American Red Cross, said she’s often asked, as she was Saturday by a reporter, why she chose this work.
“I always tell people, in a national emergency like this, I wake up, turn on CNN, see the disaster, and I know what I’m supposed to do,” McKellips said. “And other people wake up and wonder what they can do.”
Bamba said friends and news organizations have been posting pictures of the damage in Victoria on Facebook, eerily foreshadowing what might be awaiting them when they return.
“It’s horrible,” Bamba said. “Victoria tends to flood, and it’s just bad rain, so we have no idea how long it’ll be before we get back or what to expect . ... It’s going to really be a mess when we get home.”
Contact Andrea Ball at 512-912-2506. Contact Taylor Goldenstein at 512-445-3972. Contact Philip Jankowski at 512-445-3702.
Expecting high water from continuing rain, Danny Diaz (left) and Daniel Mitchell, of Goodwill Industries of Central Texas, place sandbags at an entrance to the Goodwill store on North Lamar Boulevard in Austin on Saturday. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Adam Salazar of the Austin Watershed Protection Department sets up a barricade at Terry-O Lane and Industrial Boulevard where a vehicle got stuck Saturday. Travis County and Austin officials said Saturday they are prepared for multiple days of drenching rain.
Several dozen officials gather in the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Special Operations Center on Saturday to monitor statewide conditions and to assess the damage and destruction from Harvey.
Austin Animal Center volunteer Gina Varela checks on a pet belonging to an evacuee at the Delco Center on Saturday. About 140 people were at the facility, said Red Cross of Central Texas spokesman Geof Sloan.