Rain poured down Thursday for the 16th straight day across Texas and Oklahoma, where flash floods and high winds have already killed 11 people. With little relief expected until the Fourth of July, emergency crews were being flown in from other states to help with rescue efforts.
The rain comes on top of ground already soaked by unusually heavy rainfall this year. Dallas and Oklahoma City, both of which average about 33 inches a year, have already recorded more than 30 inches, and NBC’s Jay Gray reported that some isolated areas of central Texas had recorded more rainfall just this month than they did in all of 2006.
The storm was being driven by a tropical air mass that was stubbornly refusing to budge over south central Texas. NBC WeatherPlus forecasters predicted that the air mass would remain in place for several more days, spawning showers and thunderstorms daily into next week.
With the ground saturated and overrun, those rains will swamp even higher areas, meteorologists said.
“The creeks, the rivers, the lakes are all full, so any additional rain turns into flood,” said David Finfrock, a forecaster for NBC affiliate KXAS in Dallas, where meteorologists said this June could become the wettest on record.
Extensive damage expected
Officials declined to estimate the damage because more was expected. But in the town of Marble Falls, northwest of Austin, Mayor Raymond Whitman said it was “even worse than I anticipated. We are seeing an enormous amount of damage to our infrastructure, bridges, streets.”
Dennis Phillips, owner of Discount T-Shirt Co., said that his Marble Falls business was underwater and that the phones were out.
“All of our inventory, all of our presses — computer systems, everything — it’s pretty much taken out the entire shop,” he said.
In Arlington, Texas, a flood-swollen creek put Six Flags Amusement Park underwater, while residents of entire neighborhoods of Haltom City, outside Dallas, saw their yards wash away Thursday morning.
In Oklahoma, at least three bridges were destroyed in Pontotoc County, and officials statewide were on alert to respond to wind damage after as many as a dozen tornadoes were reported overnight.
Officials in Tarrant and Parker counties, in the Dallas area, ordered mandatory evacuations of communities along the Brazos River.
“We had people in trees,” Gene Mayo, sheriff of Hood County, Texas, told NBC News. “We had mobile homes that actually had water completely over them.”
For residents of the Tin-Top neighborhood southwest of Forth Worth, the danger was coming from 40 miles upriver, NBC’s Don Teague reported.
Managers at Possum Kingdom Lake were forced to open floodgates, releasing millions of gallons of water. By midnight, authorities fear, the water could flood dozens of homes, including that of Robert Steele, who expects to return Friday to find his house underwater.
“Long as we’re safe, you can always rebuild,” Steele said. “And that’s why you’ve got insurance.”
The Texas National Guard dispatched troops and vehicles to hard-hit areas from the Oklahoma border to the Rio Grande Valley.
About 150 troops and 50 vehicles were mobilized, but emergency crews were having trouble keeping up with the demand for high-water rescues, which have led to dozens of risky operations across the two states, officials said.
At least 20 people have been rescued so far in Austin, which was received more than 19 inches of rain in less than two days, NBC affiliate KXAN reported Thursday. So much debris was being dislodged by the racing waters that emergency officials began dispensing tetanus shots at shelters in Burnet County.
On Wednesday, the downpour and winds were so treacherous that helicopters were forced to halt efforts to rescue people from rooftops. Neighboring states were sending in relief crews, Gray reported from Dallas.
The storm was generating gale-force winds in western Texas. In Seminole, 90-mph winds toppled a 320-foot radio tower Tuesday night, destroying a church, while the roof of a Bealls department store also caved in, NBC affiliate KCBD reported. Winds continued gusting near 30 mph Thursday in Lubbock.
Dozens of people stranded
Flood warnings stretched from the Gulf of Mexico north through most of Oklahoma and into Missouri. In Oklahoma, the Red River was expected to crest at least 5 feet above flood stage Thursday afternoon, and officials told NBC affiliate KTEN of Ada that if the rains continued into next week, Interstate 35 could be shut down.
Across both states, a secondary fear was tornadoes whipped up by the storm system.
Six tornadoes were reported Wednesday night in Orienta, in western Oklahoma, and at least four were spotted in 15 minutes in Major County, NBC affiliate KFOR of Oklahoma City reported. No major structures were damaged.
No new deaths had been reported Thursday, but the extended heavy rain left dozens of people stranded on rooftops and in cars and trees.
Phillip Schwartz’ car was engulfed in water late Wednesday in East Tulsa, Okla. He was rescued only after he called the fire department on his cell phone, NBC affiliate KJRH reported.
“It was dark, and you couldn’t even see nothing. It all happened so fast,” Schwartz said.
Rain damage in Ada, Okla., was overtaking efforts to keep streets open, city spokesman Mike Bratcher told NBC affiliate KTEN.
“Those patches aren’t holding because another heavy rain comes in right when we’re finished and washes it back out,” he said.