Storms flood central US, killing 3, forcing evacuations
May. 25, 2015
SAN MARCOS, Texas (AP) — Record rainfall wreaked havoc across a swath of the central U.S. on Sunday, causing flash floods in normally dry riverbeds, spawning tornadoes and forcing at least 2,000 people in Texas from their homes.
Tornadoes struck, severely damaging an apartment complex in Houston, Texas. A firefighter in Oklahoma was swept to his death while trying to rescue people from high water and a woman in Tulsa died in a traffic-related crash. In Texas, a man's body was recovered from a flooded area along the Blanco River, which rose 26 feet (8 meters) in just one hour and left piles of wreckage 20 feet (6 meters) high, authorities said.
"It looks pretty bad out there," said Hays County emergency management coordinator Kharley Smith, describing the destruction in Wimberley, a community that is part of a fast-growing corridor between Austin and San Antonio. "We do have whole streets with maybe one or two houses left on them and the rest are just slabs," she said, noting late Sunday that three people from Wimberley still weren't accounted for.
From 350 to 400 homes were destroyed in Wimberley, many of them washed away, Smith said. In nearby San Marcos, flooding had damaged about 300 homes, she said.
Authorities also warned people to honor a night-time curfew and stay away from damaged areas, since more rain was on the way, threatening more floods with the ground saturated and waterways overflowing.
Rivers rose so fast that whole communities woke up Sunday surrounded by water. The Blanco crested above 40 feet (12 meters) — more than triple its flood stage of 13 feet (4 meters) — swamping a busy north-south highway to close. Rescuers used pontoon boats and a helicopter to pull people out.
Dallas also faced severe flooding from the Trinity River, which was expected to crest near 40 feet (12 meters) Monday and lap at the foundations of an industrial park. The Red and Wichita rivers also rose far above flood stage.
This May is already the wettest on record for several cities in the southern Plains states, with days still to go and more rain on the way. So far this year, Oklahoma City has recorded 27.37 inches (69.5 centimeters) of rain. Last year the state's capital got only 4.29 inches (10.9 centimeters).
The reasons include a prolonged warming of Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures, which generally results in cooler air, coupled with an active southern jet stream and plentiful moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, said Meteorologist Forrest Mitchell at National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma.
Wichita Falls was so dry at one point that that it had to get Texas regulatory approval to recycle and treat its wastewater as drinking water dried up. By Sunday, the city reached a rainfall record, nearly 14 inches (35.5 centimeters) so far in May.
The storm system pushed northeast into Iowa and Illinois on Sunday after it moved through parts of Colorado, central and North Texas and most of Oklahoma. New flash flood watches were issued Sunday for western Arkansas, Missouri and parts of Kansas, and tornado warnings were issued Sunday night for parts of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.