Massive Storm System Wreaks Havoc In Texas, Oklahoma And Mexico

May 27, 2015
Originally published on May 27, 2015 5:51 pm
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The governor of Texas says flooding there is the worst that state has ever seen. A massive storm broke records as it trudged through over Memorial Day weekend, tearing up much of Oklahoma and parts of northern Mexico, too. This storm also ruined lives. More than two dozen people died from flooding and tornadoes. A dozen others are still missing in central Texas. NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: This is Shoal Creek. It's normally a feeble stream that snakes through central Austin on its way to the Colorado River. Today, it's flowing with deceptive calm over a bottom of rocky limestone. On Monday afternoon, after seven inches of rain fell in five hours, Shoal Creek surged out of its banks, turned Lamar Boulevard into a broad river, inundated a high school football field and a business district, and disrupted the afternoon patrons of Shoal Creek Saloon.

RAY CANFIELD: We sandbagged and we were holding back the water pretty good, but it got to a certain level, and it breached the door and then the water rushed in - more damage than we've ever had. We usually just mop up or shut down for a half a day. This will be a little longer.

BURNETT: Owner Ray Canfield hopes to be putting boiled crawfish and boudin sausage back on his tables after he power washes all the mud out, replaces all of his kitchen equipment, and satisfies the platoon of city code people. But the Cajun chef is a whole lot better off than folks in other parts of the waterlogged Southwest. Gazing down upon the scoured landscape left by the historic flood on the Blanco River, an amazed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott described the tsunami-like power of the water. Kathy Moorman is director of the Wimberley Chamber of Commerce in this hill country town beside the Cyprus-lined Blanco.

KATHY MOORMAN: Trees have been uprooted, bark stripped off of trees. Houses were floating down the river. The estimate is between two and 300 homes have been either destroyed or are gone.

BURNETT: If you head farther southwest, you reach the border town of Acuna, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas. On Monday morning, a tornado pulverized 800 homes and killed 13 people. This includes a baby reportedly sucked out of its mother's arms by the whirling winds. When the moisture-swollen storm reached Houston on the coastal bend, it dumped nearly a foot of rain in some places. The aptly named Bayou City became an aquatic metropolis yesterday. The mayor has declared a local state of disaster. Panicked drivers abandoned an estimated 2,500 vehicles as the murky water crept up highway ramps and onto roadways. The flooding damaged 500 to 700 homes in Harris County.

GREG ABBOTT: My heart, my prayers go out to the families who have been impacted by this dramatic flooding.

BURNETT: Gov. Abbott was in Houston on Tuesday, his second day flying over natural disasters in a helicopter.

ABBOTT: I have, as governor, declared disaster declarations from literally the Red River to the Rio Grande.

BURNETT: But the disasters didn't stop at the Red River. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin put all 77 counties under a state of emergency because of the same relentless rains and flash flooding. Consider, in recent weeks Oklahoma has withstood 25 tornadoes. Four people have died. And National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Smith says with more rain forecast all this week, it's not over yet.

RICK SMITH: We're looking at a setup where we could have more very heavy rainfall. It is a situation where the rivers are already very high - the streams, the creeks. Every body of water, even the lakes, are high now. So any heavy rain that impacts those areas is just going to make flooding more likely.

BURNETT: On the bright side - yes, there is one - these so-called rain bombs are refilling parched reservoirs after nine years of drought in some places. It seems to affirm a quote attributed to a meteorologist in 1927. Texas is a land of perennial drought broken by the occasional devastating flood. John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.

GREENE: And we should tell you, John had help on this story from two member stations, KUHF and KGOU. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.