Storms Ease in Texas, but Runoff Could Mean More Flooding

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Although the deadly thunderstorms that lashed much of Texas have tapered off, many cities were still in danger Thursday as the runoff kept pouring into rising rivers, and officials warned about the risk of more flooding.

The Houston area got a respite from rainy weather a day earlier, but heavy rains from earlier in the week were still flowing downstream.

In the suburbs, the San Jacinto River was above flood stage, and its floodwaters threatened to strand some people in their homes for days.

About 60 miles southwest of Houston, the mayor of Wharton asked residents to voluntarily evacuate about 300 homes because of the predicted rise of the Colorado River.

And in the rural Parker County community of Horseshoe Bend, some 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth, officials asked people in 250 homes to flee from the swelling Brazos River.

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By early Thursday, Parker County Emergency Management spokesman Joel Kertok said the Brazos had almost crested, but officials had no immediate reports of flooded homes and were monitoring the situation.

He said the river, which has a flood level of 21 feet, was at about 23 feet.

The death toll from the storms and flooding in Texas and Oklahoma climbed to 23 and was expected to increase as eight people are still missing, authorities said late Wednesday. Rescuers said they had identified the body of a Texas mother, days after she and seven others went missing over Memorial Day weekend when raging floodwaters swept away their vacation home in Wimberley.

Michelle Carey-Charba, 43, was found Wednesday, even as her family told NBC News they were still holding out hope that she and the rest of the family might still be alive.

"We're not going to stop looking until we've found them," said Alan Daniel, her brother-in law.

Only one person who was in the house has been found: Jonathan McComb, Carey-Charba's family friend, who was found badly injured but alive Monday after floodwaters carried him several miles from where the vacation house once stood in the town of Wimberley.

Still missing: Carey-Charba's husband, Randy; their young son Will; her parents, Ralph and Sue Carey; McComb's wife, Laura; and the two young McCombs children, Andrew and Leighton.

Authorities have also identified the body of a man found in San Marcos as that of 74-year-old Dayton Larry Thomas, bringing the number of people missing in Hays County to eight.

The body of a boy was recovered from the Blanco River in rural Hays County. Officials say it's unclear whether the child is on the county's list of those missing from the storm.

By late Wednesday, the San Jacinto was at 52 feet, nearly 3 feet above flood stage, said Kim Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Flood Control District.

Joey Shedd, 23, didn't plan on evacuating his home in the Moonshine Hill neighborhood located along the San Jacinto. Shedd said his home is safe because it stands on stilts, but he expected his parents' home next door to flood because it's at ground level.

"It hasn't been this bad since Hurricane Ike," in 2008.

He said the all-terrain vehicle he was using to ride across flooded roads "barely makes it to my house."

Chuck Bayne was among those who decided to follow authorities' advice and leave his North Texas home in Horseshoe Bend. On Wednesday, Bayne, owner of the Brazos RV Resort, headed to his second home in Arlington.

"Everybody on the river is leaving, except you have a couple dozen who aren't leaving. They're afraid of looters, and some are just plain stubborn," he said.

In Wharton, the Colorado River is expected to crest at about 45.5 feet, which is nearly 7 feet above flood stage, by Saturday.

"Our main concern was getting residents ahead of the game and giving them notice to voluntary evacuate," said Paula Favors, city secretary in Wharton, which has more than 8,800 residents.

In Houston, 800 to 1,400 homes have already been damaged by the flooding. Thousands of homes were also damaged or destroyed in the Central Texas corridor that includes Wimberley — 744 of them in San Marcos alone.

This has been the wettest month on record for Texas, even with several days left. The state climatologist's office said Texas has received an average of 7.54 inches of rain in May, breaking the old record of 6.66 inches set in June 2004. While rain is in the forecast for many areas for the next couple of days, the chances for showers are greater during the weekend.

On the banks of the Blanco in Central Texas, Brian Martinez and his wife, Pam, continued cleaning their home Wednesday after it was swamped when the river crested Sunday.

"I've cried all day," said Pam Martinez. "Every time I opened a drawer and saw there was more water, it was too much for me."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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