Texas floods: More rain on the way as 13 people remain missing

Posted at 9:10 AM, May 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-27 10:32:30-04

The storm may have passed, but the full scope of the tragedy is just starting to emerge.

As floodwaters slowly recede in Texas, more bodies surface — many found in vehicles swept away by raging currents.

By Wednesday morning, at least 18 people were found dead in Texas and Oklahoma as well as 13 in northern Mexico from the same storm system.

But at least 13 people remain missing. And the effort to find them continues to be treacherous.

The devastation

The country’s fourth-largest city was ravaged by flooding many had not seen in a lifetime. More than 11 inches of rain fell in some parts of Houston just in the past day, on top of relentless rainfall that had already inundated the city.

At least five people died, and two remain missing in Houston, authorities said.

Normally bustling highways turned into rivers. Abandoned cars looked like toys in a bathtub.

“The defining feature of Houston is the small rivers that run through the city,” Mayor Annise Parker said. “Many of them went over their banks and began to flood neighborhoods.”

And the structural loss has been devastating. More than 4,000 properties were severely damaged in Houston, Parker said.

“We’ve seen flooding before but not nearly to this extreme,” said Gage Mueller, who’s lived in Houston for 40 years. “It rains and it rains and it rains, and there’s really nowhere for the water to go. … It’s ridiculous.”

In addition to the five dead in Houston, three people died and 11 remain missing in Hays County, not far from Austin, the state capital. Four other counties reported one death each — Medina, Milam, Travis and Williamson.

In Oklahoma, six people died from the storm that began over the weekend. They included a firefighter in Claremore who was trying to perform a water rescue.

The rescues

A swift-water rescue attempt turned perilous when a rescue boat capsized in Houston, the mayor’s office said.

An elderly couple who were on the boat remain missing, said Janice Evans, spokeswoman for Houston’s mayor.

The need for rescues was so great that Houston public works trucks were converted into temporary ambulances, responding to 911 calls and pulling out residents who couldn’t escape their homes.

With any luck, more of the missing will be rescued.

“We have cars littered all over the city,” Parker said, “and as the floodwaters go down, that’s one of the things we’re doing to make sure — that no one was trapped in those vehicles.”

The forecast

While the flooding might be settling down in the Houston area, more danger looms.

Additional flash flooding is possible Wednesday morning, with heavy rain expected in Houston and counties to the north, the National Weather Service said.

Rain ranging from 1 to 3 inches is expected in the area, the weather service said. A flash flood warning for several counties — including downtown and northern Houston — was set to run through 9:15 a.m. CT (10:15 a.m. ET) Wednesday.

Wednesday’s rain could bring large hail and damaging winds around Crockett. But perhaps the bigger concern is the rainfall traveling downstream and deluging Houston once again.

“You think conditions are improving, but if it’s raining hundreds of miles to the north, it could cause problems,” CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said.

Areas farther north, including Dallas, are expected to get 2 to 4 inches between Wednesday and Sunday. And parts of eastern Oklahoma will get drenched with 4 to 6 inches of rain.

The hope

It’s been three days since the McComb family’s vacation cabin was uprooted and washed away by flood currents in Wimberley, Texas.

Jonathan and Laura McComb, along with their two children, were inside. Their cabin broke apart as it floated downstream.

Laura McComb called her sister as the house drifted away.

“A little after 1 o’clock in the morning, she called me and said: ‘I just want you to know the ceiling has caved in, and the house is floating down the water,’ ” sister Julie Shields told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

” ‘Tell Mom and Dad that I love them. I love you, and pray.’ ”

Jonathan McComb was eventually found alive, with a collapsed lung and broken sternum. But his wife and children remain missing.

“We never lose hope,” Jonathan’s father, Joe McComb, said. “But I think reality is setting in that there is probably a good chance that it might not be the outcome we’re hoping for. But you never give up hope.”