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Texans Assess Flood Damage as Record Rains Ease

October 20, 1994|LIANNE HART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — Sheila Bradley returned home Wednesday to find nearly all of her belongings ruined by floodwaters that had surged over the banks of the normally placid Simms Bayou.

"I worked hard for so long to make this house something to be proud of, and it was all gone in a short time," she said, gesturing toward a heap of wet furniture and soggy carpeting on her front lawn in the South Acres section of Houston. "But I can't think about that now. Nothing to do but clean up and move on."

As the sun came out in southeastern Texas on Wednesday, the enormity of the situation began to set in: At least 10 people had died as three days of continuous storms dumped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas, overwhelming rivers and waterways.

And as Bradley and her neighbors--who were among the more than 12,000 people forced to flee--made tentative steps toward normalcy, officials began to assess the damage and provide relief.

"Thank God the rain has abated," Gov. Ann Richards said at news conference after flying over flooded areas with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros. President Clinton on Tuesday declared 26 Texas counties federal disaster areas.

A Red Cross spokesman said more than 4,000 people have spent time in 53 shelters in 15 Texas counties, one of the local agency' largest efforts in recent years. And hundreds of National Guardsmen were called on to help prevent looting and deliver clean water to residents.

State officials said it was too early to tally damage from the flooding, but it was believed to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

A stunned Anthony Runis, 62, was operating on autopilot as he swept the mud from his living room in the South Acres subdivision Wednesday. "It's a disaster, it's all gone, it's all gone."

For blocks, lawns were littered with piles of rain-soaked mattresses and clothes covered with dreck from the bayou. Much of what people owned sat on street corners waiting to be picked up as trash by the city dump trucks that cruised the area.

"I cried when I saw what had happened to the house, but I'm glad it's over and we can try to put our lives back together," said Barbara Pick, a 43-year-old florist. As she led the way down the waterlogged hallway carpet, the stench of bayou water was in the air, and in every room, beds and chairs were piled high with clothes, cushions, lamps and radios.

Joe Price, a 40-year-old college administrator, spoke over the whine of a machine advertised to vacuum water and disinfect the floor. "These companies just come to your door like vultures and charge $600, but at this point, you just pay it," he said.

Residents of South Acres were luckier than Houstonians to the north, where record rainfall and flooding from the San Jacinto and Trinity rivers meant recovery would take longer as the waters searched for a place to recede.

Motorboats were in high demand in north Harris County as residents took trips through their subdivisions to see what they could salvage.

In the Forest Cove area near the San Jacinto River, the only evidence of homes was the occasional chimney protruding from the high water. Strong currents from the river were tearing some of these houses apart, with roofs breaking away or entire houses pulled off their foundations.

"We're used to dealing with floods, but this wasn't a flood, it was something I've never seen," resident Greg Lucas said.

Mike Talbot of the Harris County Flood Control District said that most lake levels are dropping, but that any more rain on the already-saturated ground will only add to residents' troubles.

Rescue operations were ongoing in Liberty County, east of Houston, where officials are trying to persuade people to leave the area around the Trinity River so as not to be caught by rising water.

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