For drought-weary Central Texas, Wednesday night’s rainfall was welcomed — at least at first.
By sunup, the relentless rainfall had driven people from their homes, damaged roads, provoked power outages and put area first responders to one of nature’s most brutal tests. Not even the best-trained emergency crews in the world can keep water from rising, but they can minimize its deadly effects.
As is the case with fire, there is little room for error in responding to a flood because neither tolerates error well. Lessons learned from previous floods paid off. The rains claimed at least two lives in the area. The search for a missing mother and her son was underway Friday. Rainfall amounts ranged from under an inch to 12 inches in the Austin area, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Rescues by boat and by air continued through Thursday afternoon. Officials reported more than 100 rescues as of midday Thursday. One of those was a Bull Creek area resident who went into labor just after the rain started. Emergency crews tried an ambulance, a fire truck, a boat and a helicopter to get to her home but the heavy rainfall thwarted all those attempts. An air rescue team finally reached her seven hours after contractions started. She was taken to a hospital and the couple now has a baby.
Stories like those are a testament to Central Texas emergency crews that have repeatedly been tested and repeatedly met nature on its own terms. Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr said emergency teams responded to 105 calls for flood-related evacuations or rescues between midnight and 10:30 a.m.
The rising water forced residents to take drastic steps. “In some cases, people cut holes through rooftops to have access to the outside,” Austin City Manager Marc Ott said Thursday after he, Kerr and Police Chief Art Acevedo took a helicopter tour to assess the damage.
It is too early for full accounting of the damage that has been done. Private and public budgets will be strained however as the storm washed out portions of roads around the area and invaded private dwellings.
As the water started to recede, those affected most by the floods began returning home to assess the damage. Officials estimated that between 500 and 600 homes had been flooded. That was cruel enough. Crueler still is that the storm missed the area lakes, which are still feeling the effects of the drought. It is ultimate irony of nature, that despite all the rainfall, the lakes stay thirsty.
As is usually the case, the people with the least will bear the brunt of this natural temper tantrum.
The rains cut a wide swath of Central Texas — from Bexar County to the south up through Williamson County to the north. That the area is one of the fastest growing in the state means that the storm touched a lot of lives and created a lot of need.
In the days to come, all of us will be asked to help and those of us fortunate enough to have spared the storms ill effects should help as best we can those who weren’t so lucky.
The standard for the community pulling together after a devastating flood was set in 1981, when rain that began falling on Sunday before Memorial Day just didn’t stop. It rained on and off for days, straining the city’s emergency capabilities and testing the endurance of its residents. On May 24, 1981, Austin experienced a rainfall of 11 inches in three hours. It turned normally placid creeks into snarling killers. Those who survived it won’t forget it. Neither should we forget the community spirit and cooperation that rose from that deadly water that long ago night in May.
The cooperation and the willingness to help was uplifting then and that has been in the community DNA ever since.
Wednesday night’s rain and the images of the area around Lamar and 10th streets under water brought back eerie memories. The eerie memories were tempered by the proud ones stirred by images of rescue crews braving rising water to do their jobs – to once again confront an angry nature.
It’s a match in which not losing big is considered a victory.