Death toll rises from Hermine flooding after Texas swimmer found dead, Okla. motorist drowns

By Paul J. Weber, AP
Thursday, September 9, 2010

Death toll rises from Hermine flooding

SAN ANTONIO — The death toll from flooding caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine climbed Thursday after Texas authorities recovered the body of a missing swimmer and an Oklahoma driver drowned trying to cross a swollen creek.

At least four people have died in Hermine-fueled flooding, and three other people were still missing.

Authorities near San Antonio recovered the body of Derek Joel-Nelson Clemens, 23, who along with a friend was swept away while swimming in the Guadalupe River. Crews were searching for his friend Thursday but held dim hopes of finding his friend alive.

Both went missing Wednesday as flash floods fueled by the storm hit parts of Texas before the rain moved into Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. The flooding has killed at least two motorists in Texas and others are still missing.

In eastern Oklahoma, a 19-year-old man drowned after his vehicle was swept off the road early Thursday. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said it’s unclear whether Jackie Warford was thrown from his vehicle or crawled out to try to swim to safety, but he became tangled in brush.

Hermine packed a relatively light punch when it made landfall Monday night, and many Texas residents said they felt unprepared for Wednesday’s sudden flooding. It forced more than 100 high-water rescues, though not all were successful.

More than a dozen rescuers tried to save a 49-year-old man Wednesday who apparently drove his pickup truck into a flooded crossing near Alvarado. His body was found hours later. Another person died in a vehicle submerged by water from a swollen creek near Austin, the National Weather Service said.

Still missing Thursday was a man who drove into a flooded road near San Antonio after his wife — who was trailing in a separate car behind him — called and told him not to drive into the water, Bexar County spokeswoman Laura Jesse said. Authorities also resumed a search in Austin for a woman whose sport utility vehicle was swept off the road by swollen Bull Creek.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry toured central parts of the state Thursday. Pointing out that many of the dead and missing were swept away in their vehicles, he urged people not to try to ford swollen creeks or flooded roadways.

“I don’t care how big your pickup truck is or how good a driver you think you are,” Perry said.

Some of the state’s most intense flooding occurred in low-lying pockets of Arlington, a suburb 22 miles west of Dallas. Debris — including smashed pool tables, pianos and kitchen appliances — were piled up in yards and against smashed fences.

Some residents piled all of their possessions in the front yard, saying their water-logged homes would have to be gutted.

“Maybe some bathtubs and commodes can be saved,” said Margaret Byrum, 50, who was helping clean out her elderly parents’ flood-ruined home. “This is the worst it’s ever been.”

Perry said more than 1,200 people in the town of Holland, about 45 miles northeast of Austin, were without water because of storm damage. Authorities were trucking in bottled water, he said.

The storm also spawned several tornadoes near Dallas and in southern Oklahoma. A series of tornadoes touched in downtown Dallas damaged warehouses, and one twister slammed a tractor-trailer rig into a brick paint warehouse, causing the building to topple onto the cab. The driver suffered minor injuries.

Lisa Bahm, a dispatcher with a trucking company, said she and her boyfriend took shelter in the shower of their Seagoville home, near Dallas.

“And we started praying to Jesus to take care of us,” said Bahm, 50. “We heard a screeching noise, the metal peeling off from my metal roof. I was just thinking, ‘Are we going to live?’ Then it was over.”

There was widespread flooding in eastern Oklahoma, where more than 10 inches of rain in some areas forced the closure of several roads. No injuries were reported.

In northwest Arkansas, the storm dropped 3 to 5 inches of rain before moving east and led LPGA officials to cancel Thursday’s scheduled Pro-Am before the P&G Northwest Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers. About a dozen roads were closed in southwest Missouri because of flooding, though no injuries or damage was reported, officials said.

Jason Dunn, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Texas, said even when tropical storms lose their power over open water, they can still carry tremendous amounts of rain across land.

“A good majority” of fatalities from tropical systems come from inland flooding, Dunn said.

Hermine was the third tropical system this year to hit the Rio Grande Valley, a flood-prone area that encompasses northeastern Mexico and southeastern Texas.

Associated Press writers Jeff Carlton in Arlington, Linda Stewart Ball in Seagoville, Jay Root in Belton and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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