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Missing People Are Found in Texas

August 25, 1998

DEL RIO, Texas (AP) _ Authorities said this morning all known missing people have been accounted for in this flood-devasted border city, but state troopers and Border Patrol agents continued to search the worst-hit neighborhoods on foot and from helicopters for more victims.

``We do have 120 people searching right now for any victims that may be in the water,″ Lt. Judy Altom of the Texas Department of Public Safety said. ``The San Felipe area was devastated. There is debris everywhere.″

Mayor Robert Chavira said that six people have been killed by the flash flood that struck early Monday. A seventh person included in the earlier death count died of a heart attack.

Chavira said about 400 homes were damaged, and an unknown number were swept away after heavy rains from Tropical Storm Charley.

Many streets remained closed, but some people were allowed to check on their homes.

Larry Martinez returned early this morning to open the doors of his house to air it out.

``That night of the storm, we really didn’t have time to do nothing, just get our kids and get out of the house,″ he said.

Fast-rising floodwaters left hundreds of residents in this border town recounting the same horrors: water rushing into dark bedrooms, cars floating away and frantic attempts by young and old to scramble to safer, higher ground.

``It’s just good we didn’t end up like other people _ drowning or swimming our way out,″ said Tracey Portillo, 21, who escaped with her young son and other relatives as San Felipe Creek invaded their home.

Among the dead in Del Rio was Border Patrol trainee David Pyatte, who died while searching for his family, said Border Patrol spokeswoman Patty Mancha.

The Mexican government said three people were killed and four were missing Monday in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, across from Del Rio. Earlier, the Mexican news agency Notimex had reported nine deaths on Monday.

The flood left most of the city of 34,000 without running water because its water pumps were submerged. Tanks of drinking water were brought to the civic center parking lot, and people toting plastic milk jugs, buckets and ice chests waited in long lines to get their share.

About 800 people spent the night in the civic center, said state emergency management spokesman Ben Patterson. Others found shelter in schools and churches.

Flood waters also hit Eagle Pass, some 50 miles down the Rio Grande from Del Rio, on Monday night. The oldest part of the city near downtown was covered by chest-high water. Some 800 people spent the night in a shelter there.

``I’ve lost lots of things,″ said Eduardo Hernandez, ``but I still have my house.″

The deluge in this previously parched area of South Texas stemmed from the weather system once known as Tropical Storm Charley. It contributed to five flood-related deaths in the Hill Country on Sunday.

The National Weather Service today issued a new flash flood watch for the area because the remnants of the tropical storm may trigger as much as 3 to 5 inches of additional rainfall today. More rain was expected in Del Rio.

As the vicious downpour hit early Monday, Del Rio residents were caught by surprise. Many barely had time to get out of their homes wearing much clothing, much less carrying any belongings.

``It hit us hard, it hit us fast,″ said Ms. Portillo, who used a cigarette lighter to see as her family fled their home. The electricity had long since gone out because of the storm.

Ms. Portillo said she tried to calm her 3-year-old son Matthew until the family could evacuate.

``He was scared of the thunder,″ she said. ``Then I told him just to think of angels, and he fell asleep.″

Jose Martinez, a retired Air Force master sergeant, and his wife Tina went on foot into a flooded area in the middle of the night to assist their friends and others trapped there.

``We did help some ladies with small babies,″ Martinez said. They also saw cars floating by and tried to coach people who were attempting to maneuver through the rising water.

``You felt useless, that you could see all this going on and you couldn’t do anything. You’re not prepared,″ Mrs. Martinez said.

On Monday, local law officers, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Border Patrol helped rescue stranded residents, some of whom were on tops of houses or clinging to trees.

Gov. George W. Bush sent 150 National Guardsmen, 25 trucks and nine Blackhawk helicopters to join the rescue effort.

Once the water receded, furniture and clothing clung to brush. Cars and pickup trucks rested hundreds of yards from their driveways. Uprooted trees lay in yards. Border Patrol agents used their vehicles to block entrances into devastated neighborhoods.

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