San Marcos (US), May 25: Record rainfall was wreaking havoc across a swath of the US Midwest, causing flash floods in normally dry riverbeds, spawning tornadoes and forcing at least 2,000 people to flee.
Tornadoes struck, severely damaging an apartment complex in Houston, Texas yesterday. A firefighter in Oklahoma was swept to his death while trying to rescue 10 people in high water. And the body of a man was recovered from a flooded area along the Blanco River, which rose 26 feet (7.8 metres) in just one hour and left piles of wreckage 20 feet (6 metres) high, authorities in Texas said.
"It looks pretty bad out there," said Hays County emergency management coordinator Kharley Smith, describing the destruction in Wimberley, a community that is part of a fast-growing corridor between Austin and San Antonio.
"We do have whole streets with maybe one or two houses left on them and the rest are just slabs," she said. From 350 to 400 homes were destroyed in Wimberley, many of them washed away, Smith said. Several people remained missing.
Kenneth Bell, the emergency management coordinator in nearby San Marcos, said the damage in Hays County alone amounts to "millions of dollars."
Authorities also warned people to honour a night-time curfew and stay away from damaged areas, since more rain was on the way, threatening more floods with the ground saturated and waterways overflowing. Rivers rose so fast that whole communities woke up yesterday surrounded by water.
The Blanco crested above 40 feet (12 metres) more than triple its flood stage of 13 feet (3.9 metres) swamping Interstate 35 and forcing parts of the busy north-south highway to close. Rescuers used pontoon boats and a helicopter to pull people out.
Dallas also faced severe flooding from the Trinity River, which was expected to crest near 40 feet (12 metres) today and lap at the foundations of an industrial park. The Red and Wichita rivers also rose far above flood stage.
This May is already the wettest on record for several cities in the southern Plains states, with days still to go and more rain on the way. So far this year, Oklahoma City has recorded 27.37 inches (69.52 centimetres) of rain. Last year the state's capital got only 4.29 inches (10.9 centimetres).
The reasons include a prolonged warming of Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures, which generally results in cooler air, coupled with an active southern jet stream and plentiful moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, said Meteorologist Forrest Mitchell at THE National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma.