Okla. motorist drowns, Texas authorities searching for others after flooding from Hermine

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Okla. motorist drowns in flooding after Hermine

STILWELL, Okla. — Authorities say an eastern Oklahoma motorist has drowned after trying to drive across a creek swollen by the remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says the vehicle was swept off a road Thursday morning in Stilwell, a town near the Arkansas border.

Troopers say it’s unclear whether 19-year-old Jackie Warford was thrown from his vehicle or crawled out to try to swim to safety, but he became tangled in brush.

Eastern Oklahoma was hit hard by the remnants of Hermine. The storm also fueled flooding in Texas and forced more than 100 high-water rescues, though not all were successful. Flash flooding has killed at least two motorists in Texas and others are still missing.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The death toll from flooding caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine could increase after authorities near San Antonio acknowledged Thursday that hopes were dim of finding alive two missing swimmers swept away by floodwaters.

Authorities ended foot patrols along the swollen riverbanks and pulled back helicopters making aerial sweeps of the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels, about 30 miles north of San Antonio. The search went from rescue to recovery after the two men didn’t turn up early Thursday, when the river’s slowing current would likely have allowed them to climb the banks to safety, fire marshal Patrick O’Connell said.

“We were hoping they would’ve been able to get to a phone by now,” O’Connell said.

The Hermine-fueled flooding caught much of Texas by surprise and forced more than 100 high-water rescues, though not all were successful. Flash flooding has killed at least two motorists and others are still missing.

In the San Antonio area, authorities searched Thursday for a man who drove into a flooded road Wednesday. His wife and children were following in a separate car, and the wife called to tell him not to drive into the water, Bexar County spokeswoman Laura Jesse said. Two San Antonio television stations’ helicopters were helping search.

Authorities also resumed a search in Austin for a woman whose black Lexus sport utility vehicle was swept off the road by swollen Bull Creek.

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.

Near Alvarado, 20 miles south of Arlington, 15 rescuers tried to save a 49-year-old man who apparently drove his pickup truck into a flooded crossing. One rescuer got to within 50 feet of the man but couldn’t continue 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.

Another person died in a vehicle submerged by water from a swollen creek in Killeen, north of Austin, according to the National Weather Service.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry toured central parts of the state Thursday and issued a disaster declaration for 40 counties. Perry, pointing out that many of the dead and missing were swept away in their vehicles, 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 told reporters that 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 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.

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, and Hermine was expected to move out of the state by late morning, National Weather Service meteorologist Karen Hatfield said.

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 Thursday, though no injuries or damage was reported, officials said.

Jason Dunn, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, 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, 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.

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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