Texas and Oklahoma Begin Cleaning Up After Devastating Floods

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Damage from flooding in Texas
The Highway 12 Bridge near Wimberley, Texas.Photo: Jay Janner/� Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Record rainfall led to disastrous flash floods across Oklahoma and Texas over the weekend. Storms, flooding, and tornadoes have claimed the lives of at least eight people. Officials say that another 12 people are still missing in Texas.

In addition, at least 13 were killed in Mexico after one of the storm system’s several recorded tornadoes struck the border city of Ciudad Acuna this morning. The rising waters and high winds have also forced thousands to evacuate, destroyed countless homes, and led to wide-scale power outages. A total of 37 Texas counties have been declared disaster areas by Governor Greg Abbott, who said after visiting affected places, “You cannot candy coat it. It’s absolutely massive.”

The rain is expected to continue today, although it shouldn’t be quite as fierce as it was this weekend.

A graduating senior in San Antonio who left prom during the flood died, as did a 14-year-old boy found in a storm drain with his dog and a man whose mobile home was crushed during the storm. Two families were staying in a vacation home in Wimberley that washed away, and several of the people insideincluding a few children — are among the missing. According to the Associated Press, local authorities think it is unlikely they will find more survivors in the devastated areas. 

In Ciudad Acuna, at least 300 people were taken to hospitals, and at least five people are still missing. The tornado there was the first ever recorded in the city of 125,000. In the area hit, “there’s nothing standing, not walls, not roofs,” according to a city spokesperson who spoke with the Associated Press.

The enormous band of storms, which at one point stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, did its worst damage from late Saturday through Sunday afternoon. Some areas reported more than three inches of rain over a span of a dozen or so hours, which proved too much for the already swollen waterways. According to AccuWeather, this month some parts of the region have received as much as six times their average annual rainfall, and over the weekend, many rivers, creeks, and lakes simply reached their breaking point. Weather Underground’s Chris Dolce reports that “almost 150 locations in the central and southern Plains [were] reporting river flooding, the majority of which [were] in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, eastern Kansas and western Missouri.” As an example of how fast the flash floods were, overnight Saturday near Wimberley, Texas, the Blanco River rose 33 feet in three hours, cresting at 27 feet above flood level. Wimberely lost as many as 400 homes to the flood wave. For a sense of the water’s power, here is a video taken over one of the Blanco River’s washed-out bridges:

Some additional images of the flooding from across social media: 

Meteorologists expect drier, more typical weather conditions to eventually return in June. In fact, up until this spring, the region had been enduring a significant long-term drought. As Climate Progress’s Samantha Page notes, this kind of alternating catastrophe could be par for the flooded-course as climate change intensifies:

Just four years ago, nearly all of [Texas] was in extreme drought. Then-Gov. Rick Perry told Texans to “pray for rain.” He renewed the state of emergency in 2013. But after record-breaking rainfall this spring, no portion of Texas or Oklahoma was in extreme drought as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Going from one extreme to another is a hallmark of climate change. Scientists predict more droughts in the coming decades, as well as more intense rainstorms. In the Midwest, the number of storms that drop more than three inches of rain have increased by 50 percent, according to an analysis from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

To view a helpful Weather Underground infographic about the science of floods, as well as how we humans can exacerbate them, head here.

This post has been updated to reflect new developments in the story.