Cen­tral Texas faces high risk of flood­ing

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drea Ball, Tay­lor Gold­en­stein and Philip Jankowski aball@states­man.com tgold­en­stein@states­man.com pjankowski@states­man.com

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

JAY JANNER / 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.

RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

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.

STEPHEN SPILLMAN / FOR AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

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.

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