May 27, 2015 12:00 PM

More rain threatens to complicate the cleanup in Houston

The Associated Press

WIMBERLEY, Texas (AP) More rain fell on Houston on Wednesday, threatening to complicate the cleanup after a long holiday weekend of storms and floods that left at least 17 dead and more than a dozen others missing in Texas and Oklahoma.

The forecast was for 2 to 3 more inches of rain in the Houston area, a day after flooding triggered by nearly a foot of rain in a matter of hours swamped neighborhoods and highways and stranded hundreds of motorists.

Crews resumed the search for 11 people missing and presumed dead after the swollen Blanco River surged through the small tourist town of Wimberley, between San Antonio and Austin. Houston Mayor Annise Parker said two people whose boat capsized during a rescue effort were also missing.

Authorities, meanwhile, defended their warnings to residents ahead of the weather, which included alerts via phone and in person, but acknowledged the difficulty in reaching tourists and said a messaging system in Houston needs improvements.

"Nobody was saying, 'Get out! Get out! Get out!'" said Brenda Morton of Wimberley. She said longtime residents know the risks, but "people who were visiting or had summer homes, you have company from out of town, you don't know. You don't know when that instant is."

Morton lives three houses down from a two-story vacation home that authorities say was swept off its 10-foot pylons by a wall of water early Sunday morning with eight people inside, including three children ages 6 and 4. The house slammed into a bridge after being carried downstream on the Blanco. All eight people were missing.

Authorities in surrounding Hays County said warnings included multiple cellphone alerts and calls to landlines. Some received in-person warnings to evacuate, but officials could not say whether those in the washed-away home talked to police.

"Law enforcement made notification along that street. Whether they made contact with somebody at their residence, I can't say," Hays County Emergency Management Coordinator Kharley Smith said.

Wimberley is a popular bed-and-breakfast getaway near Austin that is surrounded by vineyards. Officials acknowledged that their electronic alerts may not reach tourists.

"Most definitely, most definitely that will certainly be part of our discussion," Hays County Commissioner Will Conley said.

In Houston, warnings from the National Weather Service buzzed on mobile phones, but city officials say they haven't installed a system that would allow them to alert residents with more targeted warnings.

The city is still working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get that system running, said Michael Walter, spokesman for Houston's Office of Emergency Management.

Floodwaters in Houston affected virtually every part of the city and paralyzed some areas. Firefighters carried out more than 500 water rescues, most involving stranded motorists. At least 2,500 vehicles were abandoned by drivers, and up to 700 Houston-area homes were damaged, officials said.

More than 100,000 gallons of sewage spilled Tuesday from a flooded-out Houston treatment plant, officials said. They said that the spill was contained and that residents don't have to boil their water, but they shouldn't swim in areas around the plant.

The death toll stood at 13 in Texas and four in Oklahoma.

The deaths in Texas included a man whose body was pulled from the Blanco; a 14-year-old who was found with his dog in a storm drain; a high school senior who died Saturday after her car was caught in high water; and a man whose mobile home was destroyed by a reported tornado.

The drenching rain threatened to linger. National Weather Service forecasts called for a 20 to 40 percent chance of thunderstorms through the rest of the week in Houston, and more storms were also in store for central Texas.


Lozano reported from Houston. Associated Press writers David Warren and Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Kristie Rieken in Houston and photographer David J. Phillip in Houston contributed to this report.


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