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Floods speed through south Texas towns

BY GEORGE PIPER | CUERO, Tx | October 21, 1998

CUERO, Tx (Oct. 21, 1998) -- Texans from Austin to the Gulf of Mexico

are trying to dry out from record flooding that has claimed 22 lives and

impacted some 60 counties across the Lone Star State.

Floodwaters came fast and furious for residents in the Guadalupe River

communities of Gonzales and Cuero, where residents were caught unprepared

as raging waters reached its destination earlier than expected.

With the south half of the Gonzales still partially underwater, churches

working independently and with the Gonzales Crisis Assistance Ministry are

administering aid in the form of food, clothing and cleanup kits for its

drenched residents.

"We're still quite upset about the whole thing," said Phyllis Oncken, a

secretary at the First United Methodist Church of Gonzales. "There were so

many places that were flooded that had never been flooded before."

Church members headed to the Rivercrest neighborhood on the city's south

side on Sunday morning to help residents move furniture to higher ground,

said Oncken. The efforts proved in vain in some case as water either moved

structures off foundations or covered them completely.

It's a similar story downstream in Cuero, where flood crests reached 49

feet and left only one open highway in each direction through Wednesday,

said Dewitt County Judge Ben E. Prause. About 300 people were rescued from

homes, but the town reported no fatalities.

At least 300 homes sustained severe damage with those residents losing

nearly all their possessions. "The river came up so fast they didn't have

time to get things out," said Prause, adding that another 20 businesses wre


Adding to the misery is overcast weather and the inability for people to

return home. Cuero utility companies are still clearing down power lines

and shutting off ruptured gas lines. About 1,000 of the town's 6,800

residents stayed in shelters or with family members, Prause said.

The story was much the same in Victoria on Monday night when the

Guadalupe River left its banks and fire and emergency

management officials began rescuing residents from flooded areas.

The southeast Texas city of 62,000 as the last major population area

between the swollen river as it sloshed its way toward the Gulf of Mexico.

River crests reached 32.6 feet early Tuesday, and National Weather Service

officials in Corpus Christi predicted the water up to 34 feet between

midnight and 6 a.m. Wednesday

"That would sure be a record flood," said Peggy Smith, flood plain

administrator for the county of Victoria. "Anybody along low lying areas

needs to get out."

The city's worst previous flood was on July 3, 1936, when the Guadalupe

rose to 31.4 feet.

When storms hit over the weekend, Victoria officials were told the

Guadalupe would jump its banks on Thursday. By early Monday, weather

officials moved the timetable up to late Tuesday. But the river ran ahead

of scheduled and struck the city Monday night.

"Our emergency services are really overloaded now just to rescue

people," said Charles Windwehen, Victoria assistant city manager, who was

busy helping other officials coordinate emergency efforts. Evacuation

notices went out Monday to residents in the city's southeast side, which

borders the Guadalupe.

Hundreds of homes and business will be affected by the flooding, and the

entire city could be without power for two or three days, added Windwehen.

He had no estimate as to the number of people rescued through Tuesday


"I think our biggest concern is getting out in time to people who need

to be rescued," he said.

Salvation Army representatives in Victoria opened a shelter and

mobile food canteens for flood survivors, said

Maj. Wilma Harwell. The organization's shelter can hold more than 100

people, and she noted two other churches also are serving as shelters.

Cleanup kits will also be available for people when they return home,

she said.

Acting on a request by Texas Gov. George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton

has declared the affected area as a Disaster Area. The state already has

two disaster areas in Del Rio and Houston as a result of

tropical storms Charley and Frances.

In Seguin, local clergy will meet Thursday to discuss an interfaith

response to the flooding, said Norm Hein, a Church World Service Regional

Facilitator and official with Lutheran Disaster Response.

San Antonio reported its wettest month ever, while the Guadalupe County

Sheriff's Department estimates that hundreds of homes were washed from

foundations. Shelters across the area accommodated hundreds while emergency

officials used fire trucks, helicopters, boats and personal watercrafts to

rescue people. The National Weather Service also issued flood warning

downstream from San Antonio and predicted record flooding in those areas.

Updated Oct. 21, 1998

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