YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

In Texas, a Year of L.A. Rain in an Hour


NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas — Frantic families steeled their nerves, grabbed what they could carry and fled their homes Friday, as some of the worst flooding this countryside has seen in years pushed rivers out of their banks, swallowed neighborhoods and overpowered dams.

The rain has been pouring down for a week and was expected to continue through the weekend. Thousands have been forced to scramble for higher ground, seven people have drowned and there were reports of more disappearances. The storms have wreaked millions of dollars in damage.

In the sleepy Texas Hill Country, where vast stretches of limestone canyons, oak glades and pastures were washed out, towns turned into islands and ranches sank from view beneath the renegade rivers.

And things could get worse: The water was expected to swell deeper over the weekend. Even when the sun came out, it was a brief flash in a dark, ominous sky. The rain slackened Wednesday, only to come back fierce Thursday. In some stretches, rain was expected to fall at the alarming clip of 4 inches an hour in the coming days--a pace matching total rainfall for Los Angeles the last year.

"It's mind-boggling; it's like a nightmare," Comal County emergency management coordinator Carol Edgett said. "There's going to be higher water, more water, and it's going to spread."

From the dripping shadow of a spreading oak, Mary Causey peered down the hill to the roof of her house, which poked improbably from dank expanses of water that covered her neighborhood. "I don't have the resilience for this," said Causey, 54.

It was the second time Causey watched the temperamental Texas waters snatch away one of her homes--she and her husband lost their retirement house in a flood a few years ago. Friday afternoon, her grandchildren grew bored at her feet, skipped in circles and twisted crowns out of grass. Everybody was hungry. The police hollered down from above, ordering the neighborhood to evacuate. Nobody paid attention.

Causey stood and watched because it didn't seem proper, somehow, to leave. Not until the river carried the house away once and for all. But as the day dragged on, as the air thickened and water snakes swam languidly about, Causey grew impatient.

"I wish it would just go ahead and float away," she said. "Give us some closure so we can just go."

Most years, a long summer weekend in the lush hills between Austin and San Antonio is a sun-burnished, slow-paced affair, garnished with cold beer, barbecues and indolent tubing trips down the Guadalupe River.

Lazy as an August day and clear as light, the Guadalupe is many a Texan's pet river. "It's just gorgeous. It really is," Causey said.

"We feel like we have a piece of paradise right here, with these tranquil rivers," said Carol Deason, smiling sadly. "When they stay in their banks."

At her feet, the silty water lapped at the sidewalks and cottages of her riverside neighborhood. The idyllic landscape has given way to a soggy, smelly expanse. It was pouring in Comfort, in Kendall County. There were drownings in Utopia, in Uvalde County. Furious floods have trapped and killed a hiker, a kayaker and a tractor driver. A couple turned up dead in their car. A pickup skidded and crashed into a trailer, killing the driver.

All along the Guadalupe, residents came to gawk at their river, swollen and milky, churning its way beneath the cypress trees. Children and old-timers leaned off the plank bridge and stared solemnly at the water. The current ran so fast it made them dizzy to watch. Tires, chunks of cars and a sofa floated past. Entire houses washed below, falling slowly apart.

Amy Bibler came sloshing from her flooded house, arms loaded with mud-caked candle holders and picture frames, and made her way to her pickup. "My wrought iron. I want it," she said, her chin trembling. "I know it's stupid."

Bibler just moved into her house this week; she came up from the border to work as a school principal a few towns over. She was thrilled at the notion of living alongside the Guadalupe. But water pushed its way inside Friday, and a pair of water snakes slithered into her living room.

"I was looking forward to living in this beautiful house," Bibler said. But there wasn't much time to cry. "What do you think? Do I just leave my Mexican pots?"

And the rain kept falling.

"It's going to be wet where I'm standing before the night is over," New Braunfels City Manager Charles Pinto said, pacing uphill from the raging river.

It wasn't just the Guadalupe. The Medina River overflowed its sandy banks overnight, pushing thousands from their homes. "We hope it crests out pretty soon," Bandera County Judge Richard Evans said. "We're losing houses every foot it rises."

Northwest of San Antonio, the Canyon Lake dam overflowed, sending torrents of water pulsing downstream. A fattened Chimney Creek was threatening to push through yet another dam.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Medina County Sheriff Gilbert Rodriguez said. "We thought we were, but not anymore."

Los Angeles Times Articles