Nature's Fury: Central Texas Rain Leaves Destruction In Its Wake
AUSTIN, TEXAS — Overnight heavy rain left a wide swath of destruction across Central Texas on Tuesday, prompting the governor to issue a disaster declaration for 18 Texas counties affected by severe weather and flooding.
"Texas is taking immediate action to respond to the threat of recent severe weather and flooding across the state," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a prepared statement. "We have made available all necessary resources to respond as quickly and effectively as possible to this disaster, and to assist those in harm's way. I thank all the first responders and local officials on the ground in these communities for their efforts to assist fellow Texans during this dangerous event."
Both Travis and Williamson counties are included in the disaster declaration. Other counties covered are: Bastrop, Burnet, Colorado, Fayette, Hood, Jim Wells, Kerr, Kimble, La Salle, Live Oak, Llano, Mason, McMullen, Nueces, Real and San Patricio.
While the full force of overnight storms had passed by late Tuesday, the governor urged urged residents to continue heeding warnings from local officials. Considerable water runoff still poses a danger until Wednesday, state officials said, carrying with it the potential for additional flooding.
Starting late Monday, emergency officials across a wide region acted to implement multiple road closures, issue bans on water recreational activity and embark on emergency rescues in flooded areas across the region while rescuing residents from high water. Given previous recent rain throughout the region, the already-moist soil across the landscape was incapable of absorbing additional precipitation — unleashing torrents of water into area roads and neighborhoods as a result.
House in Marble Falls near Cottonwood Shores floats away in flood waters after recent Central Texas rains.
Throughout Travis and Williamson counties, more than 100 road crossings were closed early Tuesday amid relentless rainfall throughout the day on Monday. According to ATXfloods.com, some 140 low-water crossings were closed throughout Travis and Williamson counties early Tuesday, signifying accumulated water has made the roads impassible. Some of these roads have been closed since Monday morning when the rain first began. By Tuesday, the number of closed crossings in Travis and Williamson counties had grown to more than 200:
Williamson County Emergency Management officials said there were two water rescues Tuesday morning due to flooding. One was a vehicle in high water off CR 251 in the Andice area, where two victims in a vehicle were transported to a local hospital. The other was a school bus off CR 177 in Leander. The driver and one student were assisted to a safe area with no injuries. Voluntary evacuations occurred at the Shady River RV Park off SH 29 east of Georgetown, officials added.
The bus driver who attempted the dangerous crossing, Nathan DeYoung has since been arrested. He was booked into Williamson County Jail on a charge of abandoning or endangering a child.
In addition, three swift water rescue teams from the Round Rock Fire Department, Cedar Park Fire Department, and the Williamson County Sheriff's Office are in Llano and Kingsland to assist with water rescues. All day Tuesday, Williamson County emergency officials were pressed into service to assist their counterparts in the outlying areas.
"Swift water rescue teams from Williamson County have been requested to assist with water rescues due to flooding in Llano and Kingsland," county officials said in a press advisory. "Round Rock Fire Department will send a boat with three people. Cedar Park Fire Department will send a boat with a battalion chief and four people. The Williamson County Sheriff's Office will send a boat with three people. The Williamson County Fire Marshall's Office/Special Operations will send a captain to help with coordination."
The assist from county officials comes as the Llano River near Mason and at Llano, and Sandy Creek near Kingsland all reached flood stage.
In Leander, police frantically devised their own list of road closures to alert the citizenry of dangerous spots:
Outside the immediate region, outlying communities bore the full brunt of the overnight storms. About 75 miles northeast of Austin in Llano, some 105 rescues had taken place since Monday night as the Llano River rose by some 40 feet, officials reported. Closer to home, here's what the south fork of the San Gabriel River in the Williamson County seat of Georgetown looked like as noon approached on Tuesday, as captured by KVUE:
Given the torrent, some roads in Austin are now expected to remain closed until Thursday. The Austin Police Department released a list of affected crossings as aftermath of the deluge became clear in the light of day:
In Burnet County, sheriff's officials said a body was recovered from Lake LBJ on Tuesday afternoon. The body reportedly was found just before 12:30 p.m. in water on the shore fronting a neighborhood between Kingsland and Highland Haven. Officials said the body does not appear to be the fourth victim of powerful storms there just over a week ago when four people were swept away in flood waters.
As a result of the heavy rains, all waterways in Austin were closed at noon to commercial, navigational and commercial use in the wake of flooding. Austin Fire Department officials cited the dangerous post-rain conditions at lakes and streams in implementing the 48-hour ban that covers all city creeks, Lake Austin from Mansfield Dam to Tom Miller Dam, the Colorado River downstream of Longhorn Dam and Lady Bird Lake.
"Due to the recent heavy rains, no water craft will be allowed on Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake until at least 12 p.m. Thursday, October 18, 2018," the Austin Police Department said in a press advisory. "If there are special conditions, such as emergency repairs or recovery of property, please contact Austin Police Department's Lake Patrol at 512-329-8841 to obtain permission to be on the water."
One prominent body of water, Lake Travis, reportedly has been rising at an astounding rate of one foot per hour, and was 107 percent full as of Tuesday evening, Lower Colorado River Authority officials said.
Leander fire officials urged residents not to play in the strong currents that can be viewed at first glance as benign river rapids offering fun surfing opportunities. But those currents are dangerous, laden with loosened debris and errant wildlife as they meander through unpredictably, officials warned.
In light of the waterway ban, Austin-Travis County EMS medics dispatched its swift-water boat squad on standby in order to quickly respond to emergency rescue calls if needed.
Congressman Roger Williams (R-Austin), whose expansive 25th district stretches from Fort Worth to Austin, issued a statement alerting constituents of his contacts with emergency officials as the storms' aftermath unfolds.
"I have been in contact with local and state-level officials regarding the flash flooding in and around the Burnet County-area and have offered my support and assistance in any way that I can," Williams said in a prepared statement. "Flooding is extremely dangerous, and I encourage all Central Texas residents by the Llano River and Highland Lakes to heed all warnings."
He noted the governor has raised the emergency readiness levels as a result of the weather emergency: "I applaud Gov. Greg Abbott for making safety a top priority by ordering the Texas State Operations Center (SOC) to elevate its readiness level. State resources have also been made available to assist local officials in their response efforts. I urge everyone in impacted areas to proceed with caution and monitor changing weather conditions."
Texas Department of Transportation officials urged drivers to visit drivetexas.org in checking on road conditions. At ATXfloods.com, cameras are affixed at some of these Central Texas low water crossings, allowing residents to watch the conditions in real time. Camera views can be seen at low water crossings at:
12th Street at Shoal Creek
45th Street at Waller Creek
Bluff Springs Road at Onion Creek
Joe Tanner at Williamson Creek
Old Bee Caves at Williamson Creek
River Plantation at Onion Creek
S. 1st at Williamson Creek
Spicewood Springs #1 at Bull Creek
45th Street at Waller Creek
12th Street at Shoal Creek
Joe Tanner at Williamson Creek
Bluff Springs Road at Onion Creek
In dramatically illustrating the aftermath of the torrent, Fox 7 in Austin posted footage of the swollen Colorado River at Ranch Road 1431 in Kingsland, a city some 65 miles northwest of Austin as the crow flies.
Just beyond the region, some counties were placed under a flash flood warning in an area where some communities have gotten up to seven inches according to Central Texas 24-hour rainfall totals. Flash flood warnings expired at 12:30 a.m. for Burnet, Llano and Western Gillespie counties and at 12:45 a.m. for eastern Gillespie County and northwest Blanco County.
Mason County remained an area of concern, with a flash flood warning there not set to expire until 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
In the city of Marble Falls — just under 50 miles west of Austin and 110 miles north of San Antonio — the Max Starcke dam was rendered inadequate to contain the raging waters. CBS Austin captured the breathtaking sight showing the power of water overtaking the walls of the dam, carrying chunks of broken boats to pieces of docks along its forceful currents.
At noon on Tuesday, the Lower Colorado River Authority acted to relieve over-burdened dams by opening the floodgates at Mansfield and Tom Miller dams following widespread flooding in the Highland Lakes.
"The Highland Lakes watershed is experiencing historic flooding," LCRA officials said "This is a serious situation, and people should take action to protect people and property," officials added, describing flows in the Highland Lakes as "swift and high."
LCRA officials urged residents to view their Flood Operations Report for more on current conditions in the Highland Lakes. Additinally, they urged residents to check LCRA's Hydromet for rainfall totals, stream flow and lake levels.
The Texas Storm Chasers lived up to their name in the last 24 hours, running after storms to provide footage of the destruction. Their live storm chasing video portal was itself, figuratively, flooded as residents uploaded its contents to watch the wrath of nature in real time.
As a result of the flooding effects of the downpour, several Central Texas and South Texas school districts late Monday alerted to delayed start times for the following day. The school districts delaying opening for classes by two hours are:
Particularly vulnerable is Llano, where rain run-off just over a week ago flooded the region and swept away four people. Three of the four victims' lifeless bodies — those of two men and a woman — have since been recovered but one remains missing.
The area was hit hard by heavy rain yet again Monday night, and by daybreak the nearby FM 2900 bridge in Kingsland collapsed. Large chunks of the decimated bridge could be seen rushing along powerful, storm-induced currents of the swollen Llano River on Tuesday morning.
A flash flood watch continues to be in effect through 7 p.m. Tuesday for portions of the Rio Grande Plains and the Hill Country, according to the National Weather Service. One to three inches of rain is possible with isolated areas receiving up to 4 to 6 inches of rain, forecasters said.
In summary, say forecasters: "A cold and rainy night is expected across South Central Texas. A few rumbles of thunder are possible with pockets of heavy rainfall as well. Overnight lows will range from the upper 30s to upper 40s."
Motorists are urged to drive cautiously. Check ATXfloods.com to avoid crossings with high water. Turn around, don't drown.