Remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine flood northern Texas, killing at least 2; buffet Oklahoma

By Jeff Carlton, AP
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Remnants of Hermine flood Texas; buffet Oklahoma

ARLINGTON, Texas — The remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine swept northward through Texas and into Oklahoma on Wednesday, forcing more than 100 high-water rescues, swamping city neighborhoods, spawning tornadoes and killing at least two people.

Hermine packed a relatively light punch when it made landfall Monday night, and many residents said they felt unprepared for Wednesday’s sudden flooding.

In Arlington, a suburb 22 miles west of Dallas, 67-year-old retiree George Lowe said he and his wife, Laura, were surprised by how quickly and badly their neighborhood flooded. Water reached up to 5 feet high in some homes — many just a single story — laying waste to belongings. Quilts and artwork hung dripping and ruined on walls, and couches and furniture lay overturned on sodden, muddy floors.

“Did you ever see a refrigerator floating around your kitchen before?” Lowe asked.

Later in the day, a series of tornadoes touched down outside of downtown Dallas, damaging warehouses in an area near Dallas Love Field.

One twister slammed a tractor-trailer rig into a brick paint warehouse, causing the building to topple onto the cab and leaving the driver with minor injuries. Officials say at least four buildings in the area were damaged.

Bryan Burns, 25, of Irving, who works for a wrecker service, was on his way home when he saw a tornado touch down and then came across the tractor-trailer that was smashed into the warehouse. Burns said that he took a crowbar, and with the help of other passers-by, helped the man out of the truck. He said the driver had some cuts and bruises.

“It goes to show you people can endure horrible things and walk away,” Burns said.

Jason Evans, a spokesman for Dallas Fire-Rescue, said the truck driver was the only person injured.

“We’re extremely lucky. A lot of businesses in this area allowed their employees to go home early, which helps,” Evans said.

Flash flooding further south endangered motorists, killing at least two.

Near Alvarado, 20 miles south of Arlington, fifteen rescuers tried to save a 49-year-old man who apparently drove his pickup truck into a low-water crossing. One rescuer got to within 50 feet of the man but couldn’t proceed further because it was too dangerous, Alvarado fire Chief Richard Van Winkle said. The man’s body was found hours later after the waters receded.

“This will weigh on us for a long time,” Van Winkle said. “We’re here to help, and when we can’t do that, it’s bad.”

In Johnson County, where Alvarado is located, the sheriff’s department took about 60 calls for high-water rescues, Capt. Mike Gilbert said.

Van Winkle said his department evacuated more than a dozen people from flooded homes. “This is about as bad as I’ve seen it, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” he said.

Another person in Texas died in a vehicle submerged by water from a swollen creek in Killeen, north of Austin, the National Weather Service said. Authorities in Austin suspended their search Wednesday for a woman whose black Lexus SUV was swept off the road by swollen Bull Creek, and planned to resume searching Thursday.

Williamson County sheriff’s Sgt. John Foster said at one point there were five helicopters pulling people from the floodwaters. He said he lost count at 40 rescues.

“We were plucking people off of roofs, trees. It was a major, major ordeal,” Foster said. “I can’t believe we don’t have a fatality. We’re just very, very fortunate.”

In Arlington, firefighters used trucks, ladders and boats to evacuate residents from the roof of an apartment complex that backed up to a swollen creek. The sudden deluge sent at least one vehicle floating across the complex’s parking lot.

Arlington police spokeswoman Tiara Richard said fire officials rescued about 30 people from the complex by ladder and an additional 10 by boat. More than 50 others were escorted out of the area on foot. She said the water was as high as 8 feet in some units. About 100 units were damaged.

In a neighborhood nearby, the creek’s fast-moving waters turned an open field of wild grass and flower into a temporary lake. The waters carried away trampolines and storage sheds, knocked down fences and retaining walls and uprooted trees, which could be heard cracking in the nearby woods.

Bewildered residents waded through waist-deep water in the streets. Coffee-colored floodwaters rushed past roller coaster tracks at a Six Flags amusement park.

By mid-afternoon, the rain in Arlington had ceased, the waters had receded and the sun was shining. But the storm was just reaching southern Oklahoma, where strong winds toppled several outbuildings and forced the closure of a highway.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for many parts of Oklahoma, and the entire state was under a flash flood watch.

Police in Durant, 120 miles south of Oklahoma City, said strong winds helped topple a tractor-trailer along a highway near Colbert. The driver was taken to a hospital, and the highway was closed Wednesday afternoon after the winds, which may have been a tornado, moved through. A Durant dispatcher said two homes were damaged.

Although many residents were surprised by Wednesday’s flooding, it’s not unusual for a tropical storm to dump a lot of moisture even days after making landfall, said Jesse Moore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

The heaviest rains are usually east of the track of the tropical system. In Texas, that meant about 6 to 12 inches of rain moving up the Interstate 35 corridor from the Austin area to near the Oklahoma border on Wednesday.

“Up in this area, it went through some of the biggest populated areas that you could go through,” Moore said.

Hermine was the third tropical system this year to hit the Rio Grande Valley, which encompasses northeastern Mexico and southeastern Texas. The storm struck the flood-prone area just after the cleanup finished from Hurricane Alex at the start of the summer and an unnamed tropical depression in July. Only last week had Hidalgo County on the U.S.-Mexico border stowed its last water pump.

Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle, Terry Wallace, Danny Robbins and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas, and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, contributed to this report. Jay Root reported from Austin.

(This version CORRECTS spelling of Bryan Burns’ last name to Burns, not Burnes. )

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