By Asher Price and Sean Collins Walsh, Austin American-Statesman (TNS)
AUSTIN, Texas — Even as Central Texas waterways recede from their Memorial Day weekend flooding and insurers began processing claims, emergency officials and meteorologists warned that the area could see more flooding this weekend.
Texans downstream of flooded areas should be careful because swollen rivers are rolling their way, the chief of emergency management for the state said Thursday.
With waterways overflowing their banks and more rain in the forecast, “all of these rivers are going to heavily impact downstream communities,” said Nim Kidd, the Texas Department of Public Safety emergency management chief. “I don’t think the worst is over because of the way the weather is running and because we’re so saturated throughout Texas.”
The forecasts come as rescue crews continue to search for eight people missing in Hays County and five others who are still unaccounted for in Blanco County. As of Thursday evening, the death toll from Saturday night’s flooding along the Blanco River stood at seven, including an unidentified man whose body was found Thursday morning in a creek near RM 32 in southeastern Blanco County, and another man’s body was found in flood debris near Fox Road in San Marcos. Two other flooding victims — one each in Williamson and Travis counties — died as a result of Monday’s storm.
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt on Thursday issued a disaster declaration for that Monday storm, allowing local municipalities to apply for state and federal aid.
Meanwhile, attention is turning to the next band of rain that is expected to punish an area that was desperate for water months ago.
In the Colorado River basin, the National Weather Service estimates that the river could crest in Wharton County, about 125 miles southeast of Austin, at 45.5 feet on Saturday. It’s typically below 20 feet.
Similar downriver crests are forecast for the Guadalupe River, whose waters are fed by the Blanco River.
“Because of how the rivers run, even if it’s not raining in your part of the state, you could get flooding in your area under blue, clear skies,” Kidd warned.
He said his main message is to be mindful of warnings and to not drive around high-water barricades.
Kidd said the ground was so saturated that it could take 10 to 14 days “to dewater the state when the rains stop,” meaning back to the point that waterways aren’t overrunning their banks.
It’s not going to start dewatering any time soon: Forecasters said Central and South Texas face a flash flood watch through Friday morning.
National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Yura declared all of South Central Texas an “area of concern” over the next few days, with an “emphasis on areas in the Hill Country and (Interstate 35) corridor, including areas that have been hit so hard in the past week and where there is ongoing search and rescue.”
“Some areas could see an additional 1 to 2 inches with isolated 3-inch rain totals,” he wrote in a bulletin. “We will likely NOT see the type of totals that caused the Saturday Night flood … but with the soil so saturated … it won’t take as much rain to see significant rises in creeks/rivers as well as urban/rural flash flooding.”
Forecasts call for at least a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Friday and Saturday, as fronts move in from West Texas, with the odds tapering to 40 percent Sunday and 20 percent Monday.
The prospect of further weather-related problems comes as families and friends grieve over the lives lost in the storms that raked the state.
In Wimberley, friends and relatives of the Corpus Christi families whose vacation house was swept away in Saturday’s flood told reporters Thursday they remain hopeful that their loved ones will be found.
“We also feel a tremendous sense of responsibility and resolve. This effort is not over. We are 100 percent committed to finding Laura, Andrew, Leighton, Randy, Will, Ralph and Sue,” said family friend Kellye Burke, referring to the seven members of the group who haven’t been found.
Every day at 8 a.m., the family and volunteers from Corpus Christi and Hays County have been meeting at the First Baptist Church in Wimberley and organizing search parties, said Burke, who addressed reporters Thursday while six other relatives of the missing stood behind her.
On Wednesday, the body of one of the vacationers, Michelle Carey-Charba, was identified, and the body of a male child that might be one of two boys in the group was found. Jonathan McComb, whose wife and two kids are still missing, was rescued after the flood and is being treated for injuries.
“Physically he is expected to make a full recovery, though emotionally he has a long road ahead and will need the love and support of all of us,” Burke said.
(Staff writer Eric Dexheimer contributed to this story.)
(c)2015 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: Linda Balas pauses at the remains of a vacation home on Thursday, May 28, 2015, in Wimberley, Texas, where eight of her friends from Corpus Christi were swept away in the flood.(Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/TNS)