TIME Texas

National Weather Service Issues New Flash Flood Warning for Texas

Flooding in the state has already claimed 17 lives

The National Weather Service issued a new flash flood warning Thursday morning for large parts of Texas, as the state reels from extreme flooding that has already killed 17 people.

The new flood warning covers southern and central Texas from around San Antonio to Dallas and remains in effect until Friday morning. “This area is already saturated from recent rounds of heavy rain and will be susceptible to flash flooding… even with just short periods of rain,” the warning said.

At least 17 people have been killed by the severe weather in Texas so far this week. The storms have also damaged buildings, submerged cars and flooded major Texas cities Houston and Austin.

 

TIME weather

Floods in Vulnerable Houston No Surprise, Despite Controls

"Houston is so vulnerable"

(HOUSTON) — The flooding, property damage and loss of life as torrential rains this week hit the Houston area should be no surprise.

“It happens fairly frequently,” says Sam Brody, director of Texas A&M University’s Center for Beaches and Shores. “Houston is the No. 1 city in America to be injured and die in a flood.”

The Harris County Flood Control District, the agency working in recent years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on hundreds of millions of dollars in projects to ease the flooding impact, has been around since 1937, itself a product of catastrophic flooding two years earlier.

“Houston is so vulnerable,” Brody, who’s been studying the issue for 15 years, said Wednesday. “There’s very little topography. They’ve added hundreds of miles of pavement and can’t keep up with all the positive initiatives. … So we get these floods.”

Flood control efforts on Buffalo Bayou alone, one of several that meander throughout the nation’s fourth-largest city, have cost a half-billion dollars over the past decade. They’ve included bridge replacements, and the addition of detention ponds for rain runoff and green spaces that serve as parks in normal times.

One flooded area in southwest Houston, known as Meyerland, where about 8 ½ inches of rain fell this week, particularly benefited from the improvements of recent years, according to Kim Jackson, spokeswoman for the flood control district that oversees 2,500 miles of channels countywide.

“Prior to construction of the stormwater detentions basins upstream … there would have been more homes flooded by a storm of the same magnitude,” she said.

Experts, however, say flood control has been offset by the population boom around Houston, one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation, and a Texas tradition of strong personal property and land use rights that mean fewer regulations.

“Houston may be doing things to try to improve … but there’s a long history of pre-existing stuff that is still there,” said Walter Peacock, an urban planning professor at Texas A&M and director of the school’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center.

“Think about every time you put in a road, a mall and you add concrete, you’ve lost the ability of rain to get into the soil and you’ve lost that permeability,” Peacock said. “It’s now impermeable. And therefore you get more runoff.”

The serious flood history of the region goes back nearly to Houston’s founding in 1836. That’s when two New York real estate brokers, brothers John and Augustus Allen, sold people on the idea of a establishing a town at the confluence of Buffalo and White Oak Bayous, or precisely where cars Tuesday were buried in water on an entrance to Interstate 45. Dozens more vehicles succumbed to high water less than a mile up the interstate, which tends to flood in that spot even in a routine storm.

The first in Houston was recorded in 1843. The flood district’s 20th-century timeline shows three dozen floods of note.

“Bottom line is, we live on the Texas Gulf Coast and we have a lot of in a low-lying area, and we have to deal with that,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the county’s top administrator, said.

This week’s flooding was labeled historic, but the devastation from Hurricane Ike in 2008, primarily a wind event, and Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was exponentially worse.

Allison is the storm of recent record in Houston; it left behind $5 billion in damages and flooding wide swaths of the city, including downtown and the famed Texas Medical Center.

FEMA reported Allison dumped 32 trillion gallons of water. Early estimates for this week’s storm are a fraction of that — 162 billion gallons, with about 4,000 homes reporting damage. In Allison, 73,000 homes were damaged, plus 95,000 cars and trucks. Thirty people died in the Houston area, including 22 in Harris County. The death count Wednesday here was seven. About 2,500 cars were abandoned.

Even though Houston is 50 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, any flood control efforts are under the specter of possible rising sea levels that will bring “ongoing consequences” for rivers and canals, according to Peacock.

New Orleans, no stranger to flooding, is seen as especially susceptible to rising sea levels. The Louisiana coast has been steadily eroding, losing 1,900 square miles since the 1930s, and making the area more vulnerable to storms such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2012, Louisiana officials announced an ambitious $50 billion, 50-year proposal to stop coastal land loss and build new levee systems to protect vulnerable cities.

Similarly, sea levels along hurricane-prone Florida’s coastline are rising faster than previously measured, according to federal estimates, and are blamed for increasingly frequent nuisance flooding from Jacksonville to Key West. As a result, environmental conservation projects aren’t keeping up with the accelerated pace of the sea level rise.

Associated Press reporters Rebecca Santana in New Orleans and Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this story.

TIME animals

Texas Grandmother Reunited With Poodle Trapped at Home During Floods

Lena Givens was unable to get to her house where "Tinkerbell" was locked in a kennel

Lena Givens, 84, was at a Houston Rockets game Monday night when the skies opened, submerging multiple counties in record-breaking rains.

The resulting flood that has killed at least 18 in Texas and Oklahoma left the grandmother stranded and unable to get to her house where her poodle Tinkerbell was locked in a kennel.

Just before the end of game, a message flashed on the scoreboard warning fans to stay put due to severe weather outside, NBC News reports.

“I stayed in the lobby of the hotel for at least probably three or four hours,” she told Houston’s KRPC.

When she was able to call a car to get home, she found the road to her neighborhood was impassable. Givens worried about her beloved pet that had been trapped in her flooded house for over 12 hours.

Her grandson Brian Gardner was able to borrow a friend’s boat to reach Givens’s home and look for Tinkerbell.

After hours of worrying, Givens finally got the good news she was hoping for – her dog was safe.

“[Tinkerbell”] was floating on a chair in the living area. She got out of the kennel somehow and she was floating in a chair,” she told the news station.

Watch video of Givens and Tinkerbell reunion below.

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME natural disaster

Texas Woman Rescues 7 People from Flood

"Fear wasn't going to serve anyone in that moment"

Malaika Muhammad was home alone on Monday night when the flood that killed at least three people struck her neighborhood of South Houston, Texas.

“I was looking outside at the weather in astonishment,” she says, when she noticed a car stopped on the freeway exit ramp near her home.

“When I looked back again the car was flashing its lights and that’s when I realized there was somebody in it,” she tells PEOPLE. As Muhammad watched the water level around the car rise, she noticed someone in the car waving. Then, she says, “I could tell this is someone who really needs help.”

Read the rest at at People.com

TIME Texas

Drone Footage Shows Extent of Houston Flooding

Parts of Texas were hit by deadly flash floods

A series of flash floods have left parts of Texas submerged under a foot of water. One YouTube user, Bryan Rumbaugh, posted footage shot with a drone of the Buffalo Bayou river region, which received about 11 inches of rain in just six hours overnight. The stunning overhead scenes show the impact of the storms and flooding that as of Tuesday evening had killed at least 14 people and left more than a dozen others missing.

TIME Texas

Floodwaters Deepen in Houston After City Gets More Rain

At least 14 killed by the holiday weekend storms in Texas and Oklahoma

(HOUSTON) — Floodwaters deepened across much of Texas on Tuesday as storms dumped almost another foot of rain on the Houston area, stranding hundreds of motorists and inundating the famously congested highways that serve the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Meanwhile, the search went on for at least 13 people who were still missing, including a group that disappeared after a vacation home was swept down the river and slammed into a bridge.

Several more fatalities were reported — four in Houston and one more in Central Texas. That brought to 14 the number of people killed by the holiday weekend storms in Texas and Oklahoma.

The water rose sharply overnight as about 11 more inches of rain fell, much of it in a six-hour period. By Tuesday evening, most rivers had receded back within their banks.

The floodwaters affected virtually every part of the city and paralyzed some areas. Firefighters carried out more than 500 water rescues, most involving stranded motorists. At least 2,500 vehicles were abandoned by drivers seeking higher ground, officials said.

“Given the magnitude and how quickly it happened, in such a short period of time, I’ve never seen this before,” said Rick Flanagan, Houston’s emergency management coordinator.

The drenching weather threatened to linger. Forecasts called for a 20 to 40 percent chance of thunderstorms through the rest of the week in Houston.

The flooding closed several highways, and the ones that stayed open became a gridlocked mess.

Interstate 45 near downtown was backed up for miles on Tuesday morning, and a handful of motorists traveled the wrong way on the highway to retreat from high water.

The small cars weaved between massive 18-wheelers as other drivers stared at them in disbelief. With no end to the backup in sight, some drivers got off the freeway, only to be held up again by water covering nearby access roads.

In the Heights neighborhood about 5 miles from downtown, groups of people roamed the streets after escaping their stalled cars, and police cruisers blocked some dangerous roads.

Some motorists were stuck on I-45 all night, sleeping in their cars until the backup was cleared about 8 a.m.

NBA fans at the Toyota Center, where the Rockets hosted a Western Conference finals game against Golden State on Monday, were asked with about two minutes left in the game not to leave the arena because of the severe weather.

The game ended before 11 p.m., but about 400 people remained in their seats at 1:30 a.m., choosing to stay in the building rather than brave the flooded roads that awaited them outside.

A spokeswoman for the flood district of Harris County, which includes Houston, said up to 700 homes sustained some level of damage.

Yesenia Lopez and husband, Armando, waded through knee-deep water, carrying bags of possessions over their heads. During the night, a nearby bayou overflowed and flooded their apartment complex.

“We tried to do as much as we could, saved the family portraits and stuff like that, but everything else is destroyed,” she said.

The two planned to stay with her mother-in-law.

Dripping with water, she said: “Everything is scary. That’s the first time I lived through something like this, so it gives you a lot to think about.”

Officials in Hays County, about 180 miles west of Houston, said 30 people who had been reported as missing were accounted for by mid-afternoon Tuesday.

Crews were also searching for victims and assessing damage just across the Texas-Mexico border in Ciudad Acuna, where a tornado killed 13 people Monday.

Some of the worst flooding in Texas was in Wimberley, a popular tourist town along the Blanco in the corridor between Austin and San Antonio. That’s where the vacation home was swept away.

The “search component” of the mission ended Monday night, meaning no more survivors were expected to be found, said Trey Hatt, a spokesman for the Hays County Emergency Operations Center.

Eight of those missing from the destroyed house were friends and family who had gathered for the holiday, said Kristi Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the City of San Marcos. She said three more were members of another family in a separate situation. An unrelated person was also missing, Wyatt said.

Young children were believed to be among the missing.

The Blanco crested above 40 feet — more than triple its flood stage of 13 feet. The river swamped Interstate 35 and closed parts of the busy north-south highway. Rescuers used pontoon boats and a helicopter to pull people out.

Hundreds of trees along the Blanco were uprooted or snapped, and they collected in piles of debris up to 20 feet high.

The deaths in Texas included a man whose body was pulled from the Blanco; a 14-year-old who was found with his dog in a storm drain; a high school senior who died after her car was caught in high water; and a man whose mobile home was destroyed by a reported tornado.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management also reported four fatalities between Saturday and Monday after severe flooding and reports of tornadoes.

In Ciudad Acuna, Mayor Evaristo Perez Rivera said 300 people were treated at local hospitals after the twister, and up to 200 homes had been completely destroyed in the city of 125,000 across from Del Rio, Texas.

Thirteen people were confirmed dead — 10 adults and three infants, including one that was ripped from its mother’s arms by the storm.

___

Associated Press writers David Warren and Jamie Stengle in Dallas and photographer David J. Phillip in Houston contributed to this report.

TIME natural disaster

Witness the Aftermath of Severe Floods in Texas

Texas expanded its state of disaster declaration on Monday following unprecedented torrential rains over the weekend. On Tuesday, more than 30 million Americans were warned to brace for extreme weather, including flooding, hail and tornadoes

TIME natural disaster

Homecoming Queen Dies in Texas Floods on Way Home From Prom

Alyssa Ramirez's parents went to search for her but to no avail

A homecoming queen on her way home from from her prom was killed by floodwaters in Devine, Texas, about 35 miles southwest of San Antonio.

Alyssa Ramirez, who was also a cheerleader who played tennis and volleyball, spent Saturday night at her prom and was driving home Sunday when floodwaters swept her car off the road, according to NBC affiliate WOAI and a funeral home.

There were no barricades on the road and Ramirez’s car stalled out in the high water a few miles from her home, Roberta Ramirez, Alyssa’s aunt, told the station…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Crime

See Dozens of Mugshots From the Waco Shootout in One Image

A composite image of the men and women arrested and charged with crimes stemming from a large shootout and fight between biker gangs outside the Twin Peaks bar and restaurant at the Central Texas Marketplace in Waco, Texas on May 17, 2015.
Mclennan County Sheriff's Department/EPA Headshots of the men and women arrested and charged with crimes stemming from a large shootout and fight between biker gangs outside the Twin Peaks bar and restaurant at the Central Texas Marketplace in Waco, Texas on May 17, 2015.

Some 170 bikers were arrested and charged in connection with Sunday's shooting

This composite frame of mug shots shows some of the about 170 bikers who were arrested and charged in connection with Sunday’s fatal shooting in Waco, Texas, that left nine dead and 18 others wounded.

The shooting was thought to have arisen from a dispute after five rival gangs gathered for a meeting at a Twin Peaks restaurant. Authorities said Tuesday that a man’s injury in the parking lot—a vehicle rolled over his foot—led to a dispute that carried into the restaurant, where a knife and gun battle erupted before spilling back outdoors.

Police said the interior of the restaurant was littered with shell casings, bodies and pools of blood after the brawl, but added that no innocent civilians were hurt.

TIME Texas

Fight Over Parking Sparked the Waco Shootout

Someone ran over a gang member's foot

(WACO, Texas)—A deadly weekend shootout involving rival motorcycle gangs apparently began with a parking dispute and someone running over a gang member’s foot, police said Tuesday.

Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said an uninvited group appeared for Sunday’s meeting of a loose confederation of biker gangs at a restaurant.

One man was injured when a vehicle rolled over his foot. That caused a dispute that continued inside the restaurant, where fighting and then shooting began, before the melee spilled back outside, Swanton said.

Authorities offered few details. It was not clear which gang was responsible for running over the biker’s foot or which gang the aggrieved biker belonged to.

When the shootout was over, nine people were dead and 18 wounded.

Police have said five biker gangs from across Texas had gathered in part to settle differences over turf.

Jimmy Graves, who described himself as an ambassador for the gang known as the Bandidos, disputed that claim, saying the groups had planned to discuss laws protecting motorcycle riders and other topics such as trademarks for club logos.

But he acknowledged that differences with other groups, such as the Cossacks, have been “simmering and brewing.”

Another biker named Johnny Snyder said he was at the restaurant for a quarterly meeting to talk about legislative issues.

Snyder, a long-haul trucker, declined to describe what he saw inside the restaurant, saying he was only concerned with “not getting shot.”

He is vice president of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club in Waco, a group that Snyder says hosts charity events and family gatherings and is not a criminal gang.

About 50 weapons were confiscated, mostly knives and firearms, and Swanton said more than 100 weapons may be found once authorities are done analyzing the crime scene at the Twin Peaks restaurant, which is part of a national chain that features waitresses in revealing uniforms.

Preliminary autopsy results showed all nine of the dead were killed by gunshots. Many were hit in the head, neck, chest or torso. Most of the men were in their 40s, but they ranged in age from 27 to 65, according to reports released by a McLennan County justice of the peace.

Police have acknowledged firing on armed bikers, but it was unclear how many of the dead were shot by gang members and how many were shot by officers.

Of the injured, seven remain hospitalized. Swanton, who has been virtually the sole source of law enforcement information on the fight, described their conditions as stable.

He said the investigation is being hampered by witnesses who “are not being honest with us.”

Police are concerned that the brawl will invite retaliation and more violence, Swanton said.

“We would encourage them to try to be a little peaceful and let the bloodshed stop,” he said.

About 170 bikers have been charged with engaging in organized crime. Swanton said more arrests are likely.

Katie Rhoten, whose husband, Theron Rhoten, was taken into custody, said he told her by phone from jail that he and two other members of a motorcycle club called Vise Grip had just pulled up to the restaurant.

“They got off their bikes, and bullets were ricocheting all around them, so they ducked and ran for cover,” she said in an interview.

When her husband, a mechanic from Austin, and the others went back to retrieve their motorcycles, they were detained by police.

“They were told they were being held for questioning and released, and they sat in the parking lot for three, four, five hours.”

Then, she said, police “changed their mind and arrested everybody on the scene.”

Officers took into custody all sorts of “nonviolent, noncriminal people. I mean, they got the Bikers for Christ guys in there.”

In a memo dated May 1, the Texas Department of Public Safety cautioned about increasing violence between the Bandidos and the Cossacks, Dallas TV station WFAA reported Monday.

The department’s Joint Information Center bulletin said the tension could stem from Cossacks refusing to pay Bandidos dues for operating in Texas and for wearing a patch on their vest that claimed Texas as their turf without the Bandidos’ approval.

“Traditionally, the Bandidos have been the dominant motorcycle club in Texas, and no other club is allowed to wear the Texas bar without their consent,” the bulletin said, according to WFAA.

The bulletin said the FBI had received information that the Bandidos had discussed “going to war with Cossacks.” It also outlined several recent incidents between the two groups, including one instance in March when about 10 Cossacks forced a Bandido to pull over along Interstate 35 near Waco and attacked him with “chains, batons and metal pipes before stealing his motorcycle,” WFAA reported.

That same day, a group of Bandidos confronted a Cossack member fueling up at a truck stop in Palo Pinto County, west of Fort Worth, the bulletin said. When the Cossack member refused to remove the Texas patch from his vest, the Bandidos hit him in the head with a hammer and stole it.

The Department of Public Safety declined to release the bulletin to The Associated Press.

There are other documented instances of violence between the groups.

Last March, two members of the Bandidos were indicted in connection with the stabbing of two Cossacks at an Abilene steakhouse.

And in December, three Bandidos were arrested for a shooting at a Fort Worth motorcycle bar that left one dead and two others wounded. Fort Worth police said the victims were known members of a criminal motorcycle gang.

The Bandidos “constitute a growing criminal threat,” the Justice Department said in a report on outlaw motorcycle gangs. The report said the Bandidos are involved in transporting and distributing cocaine and marijuana and in the production and distribution of methamphetamine.

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