Rising flood waters brought on by heavy rains that inundated parts of East Texas Friday claimed the lives of six people in Palestine, including four children.
Giovani Oliva, 30, was swept away by flood waters on a county road after more than 7 inches of rain fell in an hour late Friday evening, Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor said.
Early Saturday, police said flash flooding that swept through the 100 block of Timber Drive killed a woman and her four great-grandchildren.
The victims were identified as 64-year-old Lenda Asberry, and her four great-grandchildren: 9-year-old Venetia Asberry, 8-year-old Devonte Asberry, 7-year-old Von Anthony Johnson Jr. and 6-year-old Jamonika Johnson.
"She had all four kids trying to lift them up out the water. I don't know how she was doing it," said Asberry’s son, Doniell Hudnall.
Palestine police received reports about a missing family around 3:45 a.m. The bodies of two children were found in the front yard of a residence near the street. A continued search found the bodies of an adult woman and two more children.
After learning of their deaths, Hudnall said his family drove down from Dallas as soon as possible. According to Hudnall, Asberry was the legal guardian of the children, whom "she loved as if they were her own."
"Loved by their aunties, loved by their uncles, loved by the great-grandmother. She basically gave her life trying to save them,” nephew Derrick Asberry said.
One neighbor told authorities that he saw the family, but lost sight of them as he waded through water.
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"The people weren't expecting anything like this to happen, especially as quickly as it did," Palestine Police Capt. James Muniz said.
According to city officials, Palestine received 7.5 inches of rain within a 30 minute period, overwhelming lower areas of town.
"The water came down the hill. The street was full of mud, so the water just came up. With the enormous amount of rain we had, we had people tell us that within minutes, the water was waist deep," Muniz explained. "I've worked for the police for 22 years. This has never happened on that street like this, ever."
Residents from seven homes were also evacuated from Timber Drive. The City of Palestine has set up a temporary shelter at the Palestine Mall.
The storm was marching into Louisiana Saturday evening. The remaining Saturday shows at the New Orleans Jazz Festival were canceled due to the heavy rain, according to event organizers. Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg and Beck had been scheduled to play.
The Red Cross said it is helping 20 to 30 residents who are displaced.
"I’ve been here since '81. I was the first house back here, and I’ve never seen anything like it," said resident Garland Wilson.
Other roads impacted by flooding in the area include:
Shamrock Road – Not passable
South Loop 256 at Lacy Street
Broyles and Dorrance streets
Salt Works Road
Brazos at Hood Street
Lynwood and Rambling streets
Martin Luther King
The railroad at Sycamore and Gillespie streets have washed out. Union Pacific has been notified.
In an effort to help the Asberry family, a fundraiser has been started here: https://m.gofund.me/2qzt9qvg
Palestine Mayor Bob Herrington signed an emergency declaration at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and released this statement:
"The City of Palestine has suffered the worst flooding event in my 59 years of living here. I don't recall ever seeing this much water rise so fast and in such a short period of time. Our emergency management coordinator (EMC), Scott Parkhurst, has been briefing me throughout the early morning hours and throughout the day. Our first responders worked through the night and made numerous high water rescues. My sincere thanks to that group of dedicated and talented individuals for the job they do for our residents.
Unfortunately, five lives have been lost as a result of the flooding. It is a sad day for our city and our condolences go out to the families of the victims. Despite the tragedy, I'm reminded of the wonderful community in which we live. The outpouring of concern and offers to volunteer or to help with donations is increasing by the minute. I'm extremely proud of the way our town rises up as one when faced with difficult challenges.
A temporary shelter has been set up in the police training room at Palestine Mall and the Red Cross as well as our local United Way will be there to help. Our communications director, Nate Smith, will have contact information for displaced residents who may have questions about the availability of food and shelter and he'll be releasing periodic updates regarding the relief efforts.
It is too early to know the full extent of the damage, we have homes and businesses that have suffered flood damage and many of our roads have suffered significant deterioration as well. Total damage estimates will be developed in the near future and will be available to interested parties.
As for today, clean up efforts are underway Sunday, the mourning period has begun for the lives lost. We'll have further statements and information as we work through this difficult process."
Palestine is about 100 miles southeast of Dallas and is home to about 18,000 residents.