1 missing, schools close as Texas coast soaked by quick downpour and more rain on the way

Monday, September 20, 2010

1 missing in flooding as rain pounds Texas coast

SAN ANTONIO — Relentless rainfall brought partly from Hurricane Karl caused widespread problems along the Texas coast on Monday, leaving at least one person missing in high floodwaters, schools closed and raw sewage gushing from an overwhelmed city sewer system.

One driver in Corpus Christi dialed 911 while being swept away in a swollen creek, but the call went dead before authorities could located the caller. Near the Texas-Mexico border, emergency crews went door-to-door in some Cameron County neighborhoods flooded with 2 to 3 feet of water, asking families if they wanted help out.

There were no evacuation orders Monday, but officials had helped at least 30 people to safety, Cameron County emergency management coordinator Johnny Cavazos said.

“You want out or you want to stay?” a rescue worker with Cavazos hollered to a family.

More than 7 inches of rain was reported over a 24-hour period through early Monday in Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley, which is enduring yet another soaking after being lashed by Hurricane Alex and two other tropical systems.

“Any rain that falls now will go directly into the runoff,” National Weather Service meteorologist Joel Veeneman said. “There’s no way for the ground to absorb anymore.”

Karl made landfall on Mexico’s Gulf Coast on Friday, soaking Veracruz, Puebla and Tabasco states in the south-central part of the country. At least 12 people in the country have been killed.

The rainfall in Texas wasn’t directly from Karl but that the storm’s moisture helped make for a “perfect combination,” Veeneman said.

Corpus Christi waded through the worst of the downpour. Even more showers were on the way, expected to continue at least through Wednesday and exacerbate flooding that had already triggered a small number of evacuations. Oso Creek was at least 8 feet above flood stage, and forecasters predicted it could reach record-breaking heights.

It was in Oso Creek where the missing driver called for help after the rushing water picked up his small car, Coast Guard Lt. Mary Arvidson said. By late Monday, Arvidson said the Coast Guard had suspended their search while local crews continued looking.

The missing driver was at least the second distress call for the Coast Guard since rain began pounding the Texas shoreline this weekend. Crews also rescued two boaters Sunday whose 18-foot skiff took on too much water near Port O’Connor.

Nearly a dozen school districts canceled classes Monday as the rain made bus routes on flooded streets impassable, and a flash flood watch was in effect through Monday night for 11 counties off the Texas coast.

Pressure from heavy rains on an aging sewer system in Corpus Christi led to another problem: more than 100,000 gallons of raw sewage that overflowed from a manhole. City officials said the heavy rain diluted the gushing sewage enough to eliminate any risk of health hazards.

Some residents living near the treatment plant described it differently.

“This is just disgusting,” homeowner Denise Bates told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. “We’ve actually seen feces floating by.”

Farther out in Nueces County, residents in the impoverished area were stranded by flooding in their slapdash communities that lack drainage and other basic infrastructure. About 60 homes in the same area were flooded after a downpour in July, said Lionel Lopez, a local advocate for the residents.

Monday’s flooding was “three times as worse,” Lopez said.

“People can’t get out, and we can’t get in to help them,” he said. “All you see is cars on the side of the road, or the middle of the road.”

Earlier this month, flooding caused by remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine killed at least eight people, including seven in Texas.

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