HOUSTON (AP) — Homeowners dragged soggy carpet to the curb and mopped up coffee-colored muck Wednesday after a barrage of storms and floods in Texas and Oklahoma left at least 19 people dead and a dozen others missing.
More rain fell on the hard-hit Houston area, threatening to complicate the cleanup a day after a downpour of nearly a foot triggered some of the worst flooding the nation’s fourth-largest city has ever seen. Hundreds of homes were damaged.
Heavy weather continued in other parts of Texas, with hundreds of people west of Fort Worth told to evacuate along the rising Brazos River and flash flood warnings posted in many areas.
Gadi Shaulsky spent the day cutting wet carpet and padding from his home in Houston’s Meyerland section and taking it to the curb. His neighbors were doing the same. A water mark showed that up to 6 inches of water had seeped into the home.
“That was just really frightening. It was just flowing in,” said Shaulsky’s wife, Jodi. With tears in her eyes, she added: “It’s hard to wrap your head around all that needs to be done.”
Houston Mayor Annise Parker said two people whose boat capsized during a rescue were missing. Another person was missing in suburban Houston. And in central Texas, crews resumed the search for nine people presumed dead after the swollen Blanco River smashed through Wimberley, a small tourist town between San Antonio and Austin, over the weekend.
Matt Meeks and his wife, Natalie, worked to clean up the resort on the banks of the Blanco that has been in his family for five generations, since the 1920s.
Of the 14 rock cabins at Rio Bonito Resort, probably only five will be salvageable, they said. Two were destroyed and seven appeared structurally unsound.
Meeks’ parents own the resort, but he took charge of removing the debris and salvaging the furniture because “they’re too emotionally tied to the place to decide what gets junked and what stays.”
On the night of the flood, they were able to get all 100 guests out safely after the fire chief called to warn that the river was rising. The river had never gotten so close to the cabins before, Meeks said.
Authorities, meanwhile, defended their telephone and in-person warnings to residents ahead of the bad weather but acknowledged the difficulty in reaching tourists and said a messaging system in Houston is awaiting improvements.
“Nobody was saying, `Get out! Get out! Get out!'” said Brenda Morton of Wimberley. She said year-round residents know the risks, but “people who were visiting or had summer homes, you have company from out of town, you don’t know. You don’t know when that instant is.”
Wimberley saw some of the heaviest damage, including the loss of a two-story vacation home that was swept downstream and slammed into a bridge. Eight people in the home were missing, including three children.
Authorities in surrounding Hays County said the warnings included multiple cellphone alerts and calls to landlines.
The first wave of warnings went to phones of registered users, which could have missed many tourists. But officials said that as the danger escalated they used a commercial database that would have delivered a warning to virtually anyone whose cellphone was in range of local towers.
Sheriff’s deputies also went along the riverbanks and told people to evacuate, but officials could not say whether those in the washed-away home talked to police.
In Houston, warnings from the National Weather Service were sent to mobile phones, but city officials said they haven’t installed a system that would allow them to give residents targeted warnings without the need to register.
The flooding in Houston affected virtually every part of the city. At least 2,500 vehicles were abandoned by drivers, and anywhere from 800 to 1,400 homes were damaged, officials said. The forecast was for 2 to 3 more inches of rain.
Thousands of homes were also damaged or destroyed in the central Texas corridor that includes Wimberley – 744 of them in San Marcos alone, said Kenneth Bell, emergency management coordinator for San Marcos.
The death toll climbed to 19 – 15 in Texas, four in Oklahoma. Houston alone had six storm-related deaths.
The deaths in Texas included a man whose body was pulled from the Blanco; a 14-year-old who was found with his dog in a storm drain; and a high school senior who died Saturday after her car was caught in high water.
Robbins reported from Wimberley and Lozano from Houston. Associated Press writers David Warren and Jamie Stengle in Dallas.