Texas girds for more severe flooding
Central and eastern Texas braced for more dangerous flooding Saturday as a deluge of rainfall joined forces with the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, derailing a train south of Dallas and disrupting traffic and sporting events across the state.
At least one person was reported missing in the floodwaters.
The National Weather Service warned that San Antonio and Houston should prepare for possible flash flooding, as additional rain was expected to pelt the Rio Grande Valley and deep south Texas later Saturday.
Traffic was being diverted Saturday off a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 45 about an hour south of Dallas, cutting off a main route between the city and Houston. Dozens of flights out of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport were delayed or canceled, according to the Web site Flight Aware.
Some of the most serious flooding occurred in Navarro County, about 55 miles south of Dallas. Swift-water rescue teams there helped two Union Pacific workers reach safe ground early Saturday after a freight train carrying loads of cement hit a stretch of washedout track north of Corsicana, derailing 46 of the 64 cars.
The conductor and engineer managed to put the train in an emergency stop before evacuating amid rapidly rising waters, Union Pacific spokesman Jeff DeGraff said. They swam away from the locomotive and were able to reach higher ground with the help of rescue workers, he said.
“They escaped uninjured, were checked out and sent home, a little wet and a little shaken up,” DeGraff said.
As of 4 p.m. Saturday, Powell had been deluged with 20.15 inches of rain, while Corsicana had been drenched with 18.95 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
“I have been here my entire life — I have never seen that quantity of rain in one day,” said Navarro County Sheriff Elmer Tanner, who said some parts of the county saw as much as 28 inches.
Navarro County emergency personnel performed 80 highwater rescues, plucking people from the tops of their cars and extracting them from their homes, Tanner said. He said flooding was delaying his deputies’ ability to respond.
“We had a family violence call this morning, but the road was closed on both sides of the residence,” Tanner said. Eventually, he said, his deputies were able to get through the high water with the help of Texas Department of Transportation dump trucks.
In San Antonio, a 41-year-old homeless man was missing after he had been swept into an underground drainage tunnel while trying to keep his dog out of the rising waters early Saturday.
The man and his girlfriend had been walking their dog around 3 a.m. when the dog got close to the ditch. “The man went after it to keep it from going into the tunnel, and the man got swept away,” San Antonio Fire Department spokesman Christian Bove said.
The tunnel stretches for a mile and a half before emptying into a lake. Rescue teams searched the lake for two hours unsuccessfully before having to call off the search because of the intensifying rain, Bove said.
In all, the San Antonio fire department had responded to more than 40 weather-related calls by midday Saturday, including downed power lines and cars abandoned in the floodwaters.
Bob Oravec, a lead forecaster for the National Weather Service, said much of Texas received 10 inches or more of rain over the past few days, thanks to a storm that moved across the state from the southwest.
That system is now combining with remnants of Hurricane Patricia, which will send more tropical moisture into the area.
“Areas like Houston are probably going to have a pretty big problem with flooding,” Oravec said. “It’s just on their doorstep now. They will be receiving some very heavy rainfall over the next 24 hours.”
Mary Kelleher, who lives on a Fort Worth farm that floods frequently, decided Saturday afternoon to move her livestock to higher ground. “The river hasn’t gotten out yet,” Kelle her said of the Trinity River that runs beside her property. “It’s just kind of right up there” near the top of its banks, she said.
In Galveston County, emergency management official surged the elderly and the ill to evacuate Bolivar Peninsula, a community of several thousand on the bay, sending buses to help transport them. But as of 5 p.m., none of the residents had heeded the suggestion to leave, according to county spokeswoman Brittany Rainville.
“Most of them go back generations, and a lot of them don’t leave when there’s a voluntary evacuation,” she said. Rainville warned that the worst of the storm was expected to hit overnight and could raise tide levels by five feet, leaving residents trapped.
“First responders will be unable to get to them,” Rainville said.
In Austin, which recorded nearly 7 inches of rain, the storm delayed the qualifying rounds at the Formula One United States Grand Prix.
Inside a downtown Austin bar near the Formula One shuttle stop, Alan and Leslie Wong, both 51, were happy to be dry and waiting out the storm with food and drinks. The Houstonians knew it would be a wet weekend but “we’d already bought the tickets, so we wanted to see as much as we could see,” Leslie Wong said.
On Friday, after watching two rounds of races, Alan Wong said his car got stuck in mud when they were trying to leave.
“I was knee-deep in mud, but we pushed each other out,” he said.
Employees and customers at Shoal Creek Saloon kept a watchful eye on the 32-year-old bar’s namesake creek that flooded the establishment in May. Over Memorial Day weekend, historic rain caused the creek to swell, rising four-and-a-half feet inside the restaurant.
“Our owner didn’t get a lot of sleep last night,” said night manager Shaula Elder, pointing out piles of sandbags and a boardedup window. “We’re kind of used to flooding, but last time was extreme, so we’re kinda gun-shy.”