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TX still on flood alert

Parts of Texas saw up to six inches of rain this week and flood warnings continued Thursday.

BY SUSAN KIM | SAN ANTONIO, Texas | November 18, 2004

"I've heard that every area in town was hit, and in some places there is heavy damage."

—Joanne Powell

Parts of Texas saw up to six inches of rain this week and flood warnings continued Thursday.

As a tornado was touching down in Houston and flashfloods were hitting San Antonio on Wednesday, responders and residents alike were wondering what damage the rest of the day would bring.

At least one person was killed and Comal County schools were closed because of flooding.

Other parts of the state faced flooding as well as rivers continued to crest through Wednesday. The Blanco River between San Marcos and Kyle rose 11 feet in two hours.

Forecasters were predicting the Medina and San Antonio rivers would overflow their banks south of San Antonio.

A tornado touched down near Lackland Air Force Base but the extent of damage was unknown as of noon on Wednesday. Twisters were spotted in the Fredericksburg area as well.

The Mayfield Baptist Church in San Antonio was mopping up after water invaded the food pantry, which serves 100 people every Wednesday, said Joanne Powell, church secretary.

"We had several church members flooded out and several more are stranded," she said. "We had to close the food pantry and tell people to come back next week. One room in our church flooded and of course it was that room. And one of our co-directors can't even get here because she's stranded in her home.

"I've heard that every area in town was hit, and in some places there is heavy damage," she added.

But at least some emergency management officials said that this flood event was more typical than residents might believe.

At least one death occurred when someone attempted to drive through high water, and another death may have occurred when a pedestrian attempted to wade through high water.

Driving through water is the number-one cause of flood-related deaths in the United States. Despite public information campaigns by the National Weather Service and others, people continue to take the chance. "Please stop driving through the high water crossing," urged Sharon Wittington, a member of First Baptist Church. "Don't ignore the warnings."

There have also been several house fires caused by lightning, said Steve Payne, former co-director of the ecumenical San Antonio Disaster Relief Ministries. A seasoned disaster responder, Payne also works with the Texas Baptist Men.

"It's the week before Thanksgiving and we just don't expect that kind of rain," he said. "I mean, what's the winter going to be like?"

The most vulnerable people live in areas along the creek beds, he said. And, what's more, their vulnerability changes as development occurs upstream from them.

"Let's say a new Wal-Mart gets built, and there is an asphalt parking lot. That means water runs off a lot quicker than before."

Developers and local officials might clear a creek up to a set distance from the developed site - but further downstream residents could be shocked by new flood risks.

"People need to realize if it hasn't flooded here, it could affect you drastically and quickly. They need to check what's going on upstream. They need to warn their neighbors."

Meanwhile Payne - and other responders - anxiously watched weather forecasts showing more rain and tornadoes touching down.

Salvation Army crews were ready to respond, said spokesperson Sara Kirby. "I'm not sure what will happen as the day progresses."

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