Storm that killed 2 in Texas continues north

Published 5:21 pm Thursday, September 9, 2010

The remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine trekked northward after forcing more than 100 high-water rescues in Texas, swamping streets, producing several tornadoes and killing at least two people.

As the front edge of the storm moved into Oklahoma on Wednesday, a tornado toppled power lines, damaged a couple of homes and blew over a tractor-trailer rig on U.S. 69 near Colbert, sending the driver to the hospital, Durant police said. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol closed the highway so crews could clear downed electrical lines.

The National Weather Services said two other tornadoes were reported in the area.

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The tornado that tore through Colbert, near the Texas border and some 75 miles north of Dallas, all but destroyed the home of James Stubblefield, who spoke to KTEN TV from the remnants of his kitchen — the only room that remained standing.

“I heard the noise, and before I could get to the back door, the whole thing was just blown to pieces,” Stubblefield said.

Flash flood warnings remained in effect until 9:30 a.m. Thursday in northwestern Arkansas and flood-weary Oklahoma, where three children were killed in high waters in one week in July and dozens of people had to be rescued after a June 14 deluge in Oklahoma City. The storm also had started moving into Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas on Wednesday night, and flood watches were in effect for parts of those states until Thursday night.

Meteorologist Karen Hatfield with the National Weather Service in Tulsa said there was widespread flooding in eastern Oklahoma, where more than 10 inches of rain in some areas forced the closure of several roads.

She said no injuries have been reported and that she expected Hermine to move out of the state by late morning.

In Sequoyah County, Emergency Management Director Chris Keathley reported isolated flooding, which he blamed in part on recent dry conditions.

“We haven’t had any rain at all lately and all the tree limbs, the debris, the leaves that fell over the summer because there was no rain has clogged up the drainage pipes and there’s no way they can carry all that water.”

Ryan Kardell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield, Mo., said up to 3 inches of rain fell in southwest Missouri overnight, but that there was no major flooding.

Kardell said the state’s heaviest rain would hit in the south along the Arkansas border, where it has been dry lately and “could actually use a little bit of this rain.”

Hermine packed a relatively light punch when it made landfall Monday night, and many Texas residents said they felt unprepared for Wednesday’s sudden flooding.

In Arlington, a suburb 22 miles west of Dallas, 67-year-old retiree George Lowe said he and his wife, Laura, were surprised by how quickly and badly their neighborhood flooded. Water reached up to 5 feet high in some homes — many just a single story — laying waste to belongings. Quilts and artwork hung dripping and ruined on walls, and couches and furniture lay overturned on sodden, muddy floors.

“Did you ever see a refrigerator floating around your kitchen before?” Lowe asked.

Jason Dunn, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, Texas, said even when tropical storms lose their power over open water, they can still carry tremendous amounts of rain across land.

“A good majority” of fatalities from tropical systems come from inland flooding, Dunn said.

Later Wednesday, a series of tornadoes touched down outside of downtown Dallas, damaging warehouses in an area near Dallas Love Field. One twister slammed a tractor-trailer rig into a brick paint warehouse, causing the building to topple onto the cab and leaving the driver with minor injuries.

Flash flooding further south killed at least two motorists.

Near Alvarado, 20 miles south of Arlington, fifteen rescuers tried to save a 49-year-old man who apparently drove his pickup truck into a low-water crossing. One rescuer got to within 50 feet of the man but couldn’t proceed further because it was too dangerous, Alvarado fire Chief Richard Van Winkle said. The man’s body was found hours later after the waters receded.

“This will weigh on us for a long time,” Van Winkle said.

Another person died in a vehicle submerged by water from a swollen creek in Killeen, north of Austin, the National Weather Service said. Authorities in Austin suspended their search Wednesday for a woman whose black Lexus SUV was swept off the road by swollen Bull Creek, and planned to resume searching Thursday.

Police also were resuming the search early Thursday for two men who were swept away while swimming in the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels, about 30 miles northeast of San Antonio.

Van Winkle said his department evacuated more than a dozen people from flooded homes. In Johnson County, where Alvarado is located, the sheriff’s department took about 60 calls for high-water rescues, Capt. Mike Gilbert said.

Williamson County sheriff’s Sgt. John Foster said five helicopters rescued more than 40 people from the floodwaters.

“We were plucking people off of roofs, trees. It was a major, major ordeal,” Foster said.

In Arlington, where the water rose as high as 8 feet in some places, firefighters used trucks, ladders and boats to evacuate residents from the roof of an apartment complex that backed up to a swollen creek. The sudden deluge sent at least one vehicle floating across the complex’s parking lot.

Hermine was the third tropical system this year to hit the Rio Grande Valley, which encompasses northeastern Mexico and southeastern Texas. The storm struck the flood-prone area just after the cleanup finished from Hurricane Alex at the start of the summer and an unnamed tropical depression in July.