SAN MARCOS, Texas (AP) — Record rainfall swept across a swath of Texas and the Midwest on Sunday, causing flash floods in normally dry riverbeds, spawning tornadoes and forcing at least 2,000 people to flee.
Tornadoes severely damaged an apartment complex in Houston. A firefighter in Oklahoma was swept to his death while trying to rescue 10 people in high water. And the body of a man was recovered from a flooded area along the Blanco River, which rose 26 feet in just one hour, authorities in Texas said. Authorities also blamed the death of a woman on the flooding. A 33-year-old woman was killed Saturday in a traffic collision in Tulsa.
"It looks pretty bad out there," said Kharley Smith, Hays County emergency management coordinator, describing the destruction in Wimberley, a community between Austin and San Antonio. "We do have whole streets with maybe one or two houses left on them, and the rest are just slabs," she said.
From 350 to 400 homes were destroyed in Wimberley, many of them washed away, Smith said. Several people remained missing.
Authorities also warned people to honor a nighttime curfew and stay away from damaged areas, because more rain was on the way, threatening more floods with the ground saturated and waterways overflowing.
Rivers rose so fast that whole communities woke up Sunday surrounded by water. The Blanco crested above 40 feet — more than triple its flood stage of 13 feet — swamping Interstate 35 and forcing parts of the busy highway to close. Rescuers used pontoon boats and a helicopter to pull people out.
Dallas also faced severe flooding from the Trinity River, which was expected to crest near 40 feet today.
This May is already the wet-test on record for several cities in the southern Plains states, with days still to go and more rain on the way.
The reasons include a prolonged warming of Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures, which generally results in cooler air, coupled with an active southern jet stream and plentiful moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, said meteorologist Forrest Mitchell at the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma.
"It looks like the rainfall that we're getting now may actually officially end the drought" that has gripped the southern Plains states for years, Mitchell said, noting that moisture now reaches about two feet below the surface of the soil and many lakes and reservoirs are full.