Tornadoes lash Texas; death toll rises to 6
HOUSTON (AP) — The death toll rose to six in Texas as more bodies were recovered on Saturday after another band of strong storms and heavy rain spawned three tornadoes and dangerous flooding in the waterlogged state.
It was the second day of turbulent weather in Texas, where at least four people died Friday in flood waters in central Texas. The storms and suspected tornadoes, which forecasters say were caused by an upper-level disturbance from Mexico, socked an already-sodden swath of Texas that was still drying out from the remnants of Hurricane Patricia.
In the Houston area, some locations had received nearly 12 inches of rain since Friday, though it had mostly stopped by Saturday afternoon. The water flooded streets and freeway frontage roads and caused bayous to spill over their banks. The Houston Fire Department said it had responded to more than 130 water rescues on Saturday, and some public light-rail and bus transportation was suspended.
Houston officials also said they had received 44 reports of structural flooding, including homes and businesses, and the city’s fire department helped remove residents from flooded homes near a bayou in the northeastern part of the city.
Houston police discovered two bodies that are believed to be weather-related deaths, one in a flooded ditch and another in a wooded area where there had been high water, according to city spokesman Michael Walter.
As the storms moved east Saturday, National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Blood said a tornado went through Brazoria County near Alvin at about 5 a.m., damaging about 25 mobile homes in the community that’s 30 miles south of Houston. County spokeswoman Sharon Trower said two people in a mobile home suffered minor injuries, as well as three others in a house in a community nearby.
Thirty minutes later, a tornado hit the Houston suburb of Friendswood, where about 30 homes had minor damage and the roof of one home was ripped off. David McCullough, 70, who lived in the most severely damaged home, said he and his wife were out of town when the storm hit and he got the call from a neighbor. The NWS rated the tornado as an EF-2 when it first touched down, which can spawn winds of up to 150 mph.
“I feel like it’s a blessing that we weren’t here,” he said as friends and family members helped them try to salvage personal items, pictures and documents from their home of 32 years. “It’s just stuff and it can be replaced. Had we been here, it could have been very bad.”
Between 10 and 30 homes were damaged by a tornado in a subdivision in eastern Harris County at about 7 a.m. Saturday, Blood said.
Austin, San Antonio and surrounding areas were first confronted with flooding Friday. Four people died when they were swept away by flood waters.
Two bodies were recovered in the Austin and San Antonio areas Friday.
Two more bodies were recovered Saturday in the Austin area. The body of a man whose vehicle was swept away southeast of Austin was found Saturday morning, while the body of a woman in her 60s was recovered later in the day, said Travis County Emergency Services spokeswoman Lisa Block. The woman and a man had been swept away by flood waters on Friday from their southeast Travis County home. The man was found alive and treated at a hospital.
Authorities have not released the names of any of the victims.
More than 16 inches of rain soaked one neighborhood on Friday and Austin Bergstrom International Airport suspended all flights after a half-foot of water flooded the air traffic control tower; 40 flights were canceled there on Saturday.
Meanwhile, a lazy creek cutting through Texas wine country, a popular getaway spot, swelled into a rushing torrent, sending eight members of a vacationing church group scrambling to a second floor before they were rescued by the National Guard. Similar conditions in May caused devastating flooding on the Blanco River that swept homes from foundations and killed families who were carried downstream. This time, the river swelled to about 26 feet in Wimberley, nearly twice the flood stage.
More than 70 people spent Friday night at shelters because of the flooding in Central Texas. Hundreds of high-water crossings were closed Saturday in Hays County, and some residents in southeast Travis County, near Austin, were asked to move to higher ground because of residual flooding.
Associated Press writer Diana Heidgerd in Dallas contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that homeowner David McCullough and his wife were both out of town, but were not both at their ranch.