HOUSTON: Torrential rains have killed at least 10 people in Texas and Oklahoma, including three in Houston where floods turned streets into rivers and led to about 1,000 calls for help in the fourth-most populous U.S. city, officials said on Tuesday.
The death toll is set to rise with numerous people missing in Texas after the storms slammed the states during the Memorial Day weekend, causing record floods that destroyed hundreds of homes, swept away bridges, and even unearthed a coffin from a Houston cemetery. It washed ashore on the banks of a bayou.
“A lot of folks drove their car into high water and had to abandon those vehicles,” Mayor Annise Parker said at a news conference.
Two of the dead in Houston were found in their cars and another was spotted floating in a bayou.
Though Parker said parts of the city were unscathed,
more than 1,000 vehicles were submerged in the Houston floods and people took instead to bicycles, kayaks and surfboards to navigate water-covered streets. The Houston Fire Department brought about 500 people to safety in boats, local media reports said.
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he had assured Texas Governor Greg Abbott that he could count on help from the federal government as the state recovers from the floods. Abbott has declared a state of disaster in at least 40 Texas counties, including Harris County, home to Houston.
Abbott said he has deployed the state's National Guard and was worried the death toll could rise.
“It's devastating to see what I saw on the Blanco River when this tidal wave of water just swept away neighborhoods,” he said, recalling a disaster area in central Texas.
Twelve people are confirmed missing and about another 30 are unaccounted for due to flooding that hit along the Blanco River, county officials said. The missing were from two families whose vacation home was swept off its foundation in Wimberley, a town about 30 miles (50 km) southwest of Austin.
Search dogs and boats were being used to search for the missing. The river rose so quickly and with such force, it caused a flood gauge to break, Hays County officials said.
There was no damage estimate available for the state, which has a $1.4 trillion-a-year economy and is the country's main domestic source of energy as well as an agricultural and manufacturing power.
Houston resident Dutch Small, 40, climbed onto the roof of his car when the water came up to his knees inside his vehicle and was eventually rescued by a passing tow truck driver.
“It happened so fast. Every person that died in the flooding, I know what was going through their minds. They didn't measure the threat accurately. They were like me,” Small told Reuters.
The National Weather Service said there was a high chance of more rain and thunderstorms for Texas this week.
One of those killed was an 18-year-old girl whose car was swept away by flood waters as she returned home from her high school prom, police in Devine, Texas, south of San Antonio, said.
About 170 flights were canceled by early Tuesday afternoon at airports in Houston and Dallas, some of the nation's busiest, as blocked roads made it difficult for workers to get to their jobs. A sinkhole also closed a runway at the Dallas/Fort Worth International airport.
Roughly 100,000 customers lost power throughout the state after the storm due to high winds and rising waters that caused power poles to snap. Utilities were working to restore electricity to homes and businesses.
In Houston, about 11 inches (28 cm) of rainwater fell on Monday while parts of Austin were hit by as much as 7 inches (18 cm). Helicopter crews in both cities plucked people to safety who had been stranded in cars and on top of buildings.