Recovery teams look for 12 missing after flooding in Texas

2015-05-26 13:42

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Wimberley - Recovery teams are set to resume looking for the 12 members of two families who authorities say are missing after a rain-swollen river in Central Texas carried a vacation home off its foundation, slamming it into a bridge downstream.

Trey Hatt, a spokesperson for the Hays County Emergency Operations Centre, said on Monday night that the "search component" of the mission was over, meaning no more survivors were expected to be found in the flood debris along the Blanco River. But recovery efforts were to resume on Tuesday morning, following a long holiday weekend of severe weather that led to four confirmed fatalities across Texas.

Authorities were also searching for victims and assessing damage just across the Texas-Mexico border in Ciudad Acuna, where a tornado on Monday killed 13 people and left at least five unaccounted for.

In the US, a line of storms that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes dumped record rainfall on parts of the Plains and Midwest, spawning tornadoes and causing major flooding that in Texas destroyed or damaged more than 1 000 homes and forced at least 2 000 residents to leave their homes.

"You cannot candy coat it. It's absolutely massive," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said after touring the destruction.

The governor has declared disaster areas in 37 counties so far, allowing for further mobilisation of state resources to assist.

Piles of debris

The worst flooding damage was in Wimberley, where the vacation home was swept away, a popular tourist town along the Blanco in the corridor between Austin and San Antonio.

Witnesses reported seeing the swollen river push the home off its foundation and smash it into a bridge. Only pieces of the home have been found, Hays County Judge Bert Cobb said.

One person who was rescued from the home told workers that the other 12 inside were all connected to two families, Cobb said. Young children were among those believed to be missing.

The Blanco crested above 12m — more than triple its flood stage of 3.9m. The river swamped Interstate 35 and forced parts of the busy north-south highway to close. Rescuers used pontoon boats and a helicopter to pull people out.

Hundreds of trees along the Blanco were uprooted or snapped, and they collected in piles of debris that soared 6m high.

Flooding wreaked havoc late on Monday afternoon in Austin, where emergency crews responded to more than 20 high-water rescues, and later in Houston, where the National Weather Service declared a flash flood emergency and an announcer at the Houston Rockets game asked fans not to leave because of severe weather.

The storm system also prompted reports of tornadoes across the state and was blamed for four deaths: a man whose body was pulled from the Blanco; a 14-year-old who was found with his dog in a storm drain; a high school senior who died Saturday after her car was caught in high water; and a man whose mobile home was destroyed by a reported tornado.

'We’ve lost everything'

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management also reported four fatalities between Saturday and Monday across the state, which also saw severe flooding and reported tornadoes.

In Ciudad Acuna, Mayor Evaristo Perez Rivera said 300 people were treated at local hospitals after the twister, and up to 200 homes had been completely destroyed. The government was talking with families whose homes had been damaged to determine how much assistance would be needed to rebuild the city of 125 000 across from Del Rio, Texas.

"We have never registered in the more than 100 years in the history of this city a tornado," he said.

By midday, 13 people were confirmed dead — 10 adults and three infants. At least five people were unaccounted for.

The twister hit a seven-block area, which Victor Zamora, interior secretary of the northern state of Coahuila, described as "devastated".

"There's nothing standing, not walls, not roofs," said Edgar Gonzalez, a spokesperson for the city government, describing some of the destroyed homes in a 3-square kilometre stretch.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was expected to travel to Acuna with officials from government agencies.

Gonzalez said late on Monday night that rescuers were looking for four members of a family who were believed missing, adding that there were still areas of rubble that remained to be searched. Zamora said rescuers were searching for an infant who was missing after the tornado ripped the baby carrier the child was in from its mother's hands.

Luis Antonio Hernandez, 37, looked in disbelief Monday at what remained of his house. Three vehicles had smashed through the back, leaving a heap of twisted metal and the smell of gasoline.

Hernandez and his three children had hidden in a bathroom as the tornado sent the cars passing over them. "It's a miracle that we're alive," he said.

Residents retraced the tornado's path in trucks, hoping to salvage their mattresses, furniture and other belongings. But there was little left intact.

Antonio Sanchez's home was now nothing more than an open shell strewn with rubble.

"We lost everything," he said. "But at least I didn't lose my family."

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