Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Punishing storms in Texas test government emergency response

Published:Thursday | May 28, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Franki Lopez (centre) mops muddy flood water from her family’s home in the Blanco Gardens neighbourhood of San Marcos, Texas, with the help of family friends.
A man walks past a cabin that was torn from its foundation in a flood on the Blanco River.


Deadly severe weather over the long holiday weekend tested government alert and evacuation procedures as officials scrambled to deal with storms and historic flooding that left more than a dozen people dead and a similar number missing.

Crews resumed searching yesterday for the 11 people who went missing in the small tourist town of Wimberley, where the usually calm Blanco River surged rapidly and crested at three times its flood stage. In Houston, where nearly a foot of rain submerged roads and stranded hundreds of motorists, Mayor Annise Parker said two people who capsized in a boat that was helping with rescue efforts Tuesday had not been found. It was raining there again yesterday.

17 people dead

At least 17 people were killed in the Memorial Day weekend storms in Texas and Oklahoma.

Authorities defended their warnings to residents ahead of the weather, which included alerts via phone and in person, but acknowledged the challenges in reaching tourists and said a messaging system in Houston needs improvements.

"Nobody was saying, 'Get out; get out; get out,'" said Brenda Morton of Wimberley. "We're pretty trained, so we were calculating. We knew the flood plain. People who were visiting or had summer homes, you have company from out of town, you don't know. You don't know when that instant is."

Morton lives three houses down from a two-story vacation home that authorities say was swept off its 10-foot pylons by a wall of water early Sunday morning with eight people inside, including three children ages six and four. The house slammed into a bridge after being carried downstream on the Blanco.