Death toll in US floods reaches 19

Death toll in US floods reaches 19

Homeowners were cleaning up after a barrage of storms and floods in Texas and Oklahoma left at least 19 people dead and a dozen others missing.

More rain fell on the hard-hit Houston area, temporarily complicating the clean-up a day after a downpour of nearly a foot triggered the worst flooding the nation's fourth-largest city has seen in years. Hundreds of homes were damaged.

Severe weather continued in other parts of Texas, with hundreds of people west of Fort Worth told to evacuate along the rising Brazos River and flash flood warnings posted in many areas.

Gadi Shaulsky spent the day cutting wet carpet from his home in Houston's Meyerland section, and his neighbours were doing the same.

A water mark showed that up to 6ins of water had seeped into the home.

"That was just really frightening. It was just flowing in," said his wife, Jodi. With tears in her eyes, she added: "It's hard to wrap your head around all that needs to be done."

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said two people whose boat capsized during a rescue were missing. Another person was missing in suburban Houston.

And in Central Texas, crews resumed the search for nine people feared dead after the swollen Blanco River smashed through Wimberley, a small tourist town between San Antonio and Austin, over the Memorial Day weekend.

The storms that produced the flooding were part of a system that stretched from Mexico into the central US.

The death toll from the system climbed to 33 - 14 in Mexico, 15 in Texas and four in Oklahoma. Houston alone had six storm-related deaths.

Matt Meeks and his wife, Natalie, worked to clean up the resort on the banks of the Blanco that has been in his family for five generations, since the 1920s.

Of the 14 rock cabins at Rio Bonito Resort, probably only five will be salvageable, they said. Two were destroyed and seven appeared structurally unsound.

Mr Meeks' parents own the resort, but he took charge of removing the debris and salvaging the furniture because "they're too emotionally tied to the place to decide what gets junked and what stays".

On the night of the flood, they got all 100 guests out safely after the fire chief called to warn that the river was rising. The river had never got so close to the cabins before, Mr Meeks said.

This has been the wettest month on record for Texas, and there are still several days left. The state climatologist's office said yesterday the state has had an average of 7.54ins of rain in May, breaking the old record of 6.66ins, set in June 2004.

Texas has been hit with almost continuous storms for the past week to 10 days. The wettest area has been from Dallas-Fort Worth to the Red River, where some places have gotten more than 20ins of rain.

The authorities, meanwhile, defended their telephone and in-person warnings to residents ahead of the bad weather but acknowledged the difficulty in reaching tourists and said a messaging system in Houston is awaiting improvements.

The authorities in Hays County said the warnings included multiple mobile phone alerts and calls to landlines.

The first wave of warnings went to phones of registered users, which could have missed many tourists.

But officials said that as the danger escalated they used a commercial database that would have delivered a warning to virtually anyone whose mobile phone was in range of local towers.

Sheriff's deputies also went along the riverbanks and told people to evacuate.

In Houston, warnings from the National Weather Service were sent to mobile phones, but city officials said they have not installed a system that would allow them to give residents targeted warnings without the need to register.

The flooding in Houston affected virtually every part of the city. At least 2,500 vehicles were abandoned by drivers, and anywhere from 800 to 1,400 homes were damaged.

Thousands of homes were also damaged or destroyed in the central Texas corridor that includes Wimberley - 744 of them in San Marcos alone, said Kenneth Bell, emergency management co-ordinator for San Marcos.

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; and a high school student who died on Saturday after her car was caught in high water.