8 swept away in home on Hill Country's Blanco River
FROM WIRE REPORTS (The New York Times, The Associated Press, Austin-American Statesman
Published: 25 May 2015 11:53 PM
Updated: 26 May 2015 12:19 AM
The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN — Louie Bond called it a tsunami, a surge of water that began late Saturday night with torrential rains in Texas’ Hill Country and raced down the bluff-lined valley carved out by the Blanco River.
By the time it reached the vacation getaways and retiree cabins overlooking the river at Wimberley, some 30 miles southwest of here, the surge was 40 feet high, sweeping away bridges and homes and ancient stands of cypresses as if they were bath toys.
One of the homes held 36-year-old Jonathan McComb, his wife and two children and two other families from their Corpus Christi hometown — nine in all, including at least three children. On Monday, McComb was in a San Antonio hospital with a collapsed lung and broken bones.
The other eight are missing, along with four others from the area, apparently lost in the torrent that capped weeks of rain and violent weather across Texas and Oklahoma. The weekend’s weather left six people known dead in the two states, and more heavy rain and tornadoes pummeled Texas on Monday.
Trey Hatt, a spokesman for the Hays County Emergency Operations Center, said Monday that teams had halted their search for the missing at nightfall. He said “the search component is over,” meaning that no more survivors are expected to be found in the flood debris, and he added that recovery operations would begin Tuesday.
“It had been raining here for weeks, a lovely wet spring after years of drought. The ground was saturated,” said Bond, a magazine editor and former editor of Wimberley’s newspaper.
Wimberley and nearby San Marcos, a pair of Blanco River towns off the Interstate 35 corridor linking Austin and San Antonio, appear to have been the hardest-hit towns in the United States.
San Marcos authorities have said at least one other person was killed in flooding on Sunday, and a high school senior died Saturday night after her car was caught in high water in Medina County. The toll included a 14-year-old DeSoto boy whose body was found in a storm drain Sunday and a man killed Monday afternoon when a reported tornado near Cameron destroyed his mobile home.
More rain forecast
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott added 24 counties on Monday to a list of 13 that earlier this month were declared disaster areas because of bad weather. Forecasters are predicting continued rain and severe weather across the state through the rest of this week.
On one level, this spring’s rains have been a blessing, all but obliterating an acute drought that had gripped part of the state for five years. But the weather has also been punishing.
Abbott, who flew across the Blanco River valley on Monday, said at a news conference that the damage there was “absolutely devastating.”
In Hays County, which includes San Marcos and Wimberley, an overnight curfew imposed Sunday was renewed Monday as residents and workers began assessing the damage to at least 1,200 homes, including at least 350 in Wimberley that were destroyed.
“I’ve been here for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Will Conley, a Hays County commissioner.
“We’ve had worse flooding in the general area,” he said, “but we have not seen a surge of the river to this degree in recorded history.
In the picturesque country around Wimberley, the Blanco River’s banks are sprinkled with bed-and-breakfasts and rental cottages. Last weekend, McComb, his 33-year-old wife, Laura, and their children, Leighton, 4, and Andrew, 6, were staying in one home with two other Corpus Christi families, Ralph and Sue Carey and Randy and Michelle Charba.
All that was left of the house Monday was a set of stilts and part of its frame. It originally sat about 50 feet from the normal river bank and about 20 feet above it, closer than any of the houses further up a slope.
To their west, a cloudburst in the Blanco River’s upper reaches was dumping at least 10 inches of rain late Sunday, unleashing a flash flood.
Not long ago, said Bond, the magazine editor, local officials initiated a so-called reverse-911 system, intended to make mass telephone calls to local residents in the event of an emergency. “Everyone’s phone went crazy,” Bond said. “It was a massive effort to call people, to wake people up and get people out.”
Whether McComb and the other guests got a call is not known. Hays County Judge Bert Cobb told The Associated Press that floodwaters peaked about 4 a.m. Sunday at more than 40 feet. He said witnesses saw the McComb house slip from its foundation into the river, then smash into a bridge.
McComb’s father, Joe McComb, told The Corpus Christi Caller-Times that his son managed to reach the river’s banks despite being hit in the head by debris.
Cobb said that only pieces of the house had been recovered.