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Heavy Rain Devastates Texas, Oklahoma


In this country, relentless rains have pounded north central Texas and southwest Oklahoma for two weeks. At least 11 people have died. Thousands of residents along roaring creeks and rivers have had to scramble to safety, as NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT: Marble Falls is a quiet retirement vacation and commuter town in the Texas hill Country about 40 miles northwest of Austin. It rarely makes national news. But in the last couple of days Marble Falls found itself situated precisely beneath the perfect storm. A stalled low-pressure system gorged itself on warm, moist tropical air surging up from the Gulf of Mexico, then another storm system lumbered in from the west to join the fray, says Bob Rose, chief meteorologist for the Lower Colorado River Authority in Austin.

Mr. BOB ROSE (Chief Meteorologist, Lower Colorado River Authority): And for some reason the storms decided to just stay put for about eight to 10 hours, Tuesday night and the Wednesday morning. But they became very, very efficient rainmakers, and we were seeing rainfall rates to about eight inches per hour. It's just something which is almost unheard of here. I mean, that's a tremendous amount of rain.

BURNETT: Whitman Creek grew into a raging river, inundating businesses and homes. Strange sights became commonplace in Marble Falls. Four Frito Lay trucks washed away, dumping their cargos of chips into the waterway.

Mr. ROY BODE (Publisher, The Highlander): There's a train on a siding that's been lifted off the tracks by floodwaters that coursed through that area.

BURNETT: Roy Bode is publisher of the Highlander newspaper in Marble Falls.

Mr. BODE: Nineteen inches of rain in any community will cause a lot of destruction, and that certainly has been the case here.

BURNETT: Miraculously, no one was hurt and no one drowned in Marble Falls. To the north, the town of Granbury, southwest of Fort Worth, had a similar experience. About 60 homes in a subdivision called Lake Granbury Harbor went under water after a violent downpour caused Robinson Creek to explode from its banks. Residents had to quickly move to higher ground. Some barely made it, says Hood County Fire Marshal Roger Deeds.

Mr. ROGER DEEDS (Fire Marshal, Hood County, Texas): There was people that were hanging in trees and on the roofs of their sheds and homes, and we couldn't get to them at first until we got boats out there. So that was pretty dramatic and there was some elderly people that have to be evacuated out of there. And people who had lived up there for a long time said that they had never seen anything quite like that before.

BURNETT: Again, there were no injuries or deaths in Granbury. The June thunderstorms have ended a prolonged drought in north central Texas, flooding lakes that only a few months ago were fringed with sun baked mud and landlocked boat docks.

Today, the floodgates are open at Possum Kingdom Lake, west of Fort Worth. Parker County Judge Mark Riley says, below the dam, several hundred homes went under water when the Brazos River reached flood stage. And Riley says the high water is only one of their problems.

Judge MARK RILEY (Parker County, Texas): As the water begins to recede and people start going back to their homes, that's when they're going to find the snakes get a little crazy and they come from everywhere and you do have fire ants this time of the year.

BURNETT: That's an understatement. In a Texas flood, fire ants add pestilential insult to injury. Typically, when washed out of their mound, imported red fire ants will collect around the queen and the brood and the entire colony will float like a raft until it reaches higher ground.

Chris Sansone, extension entomologist in San Angelo, Texas, says ants are a nasty problem in the flooded subdivision.

Dr. CHRIS SANSONE (Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University): People may be moving out at night, walking in these floodwaters, and sometimes that raft of ants will hit on a person. And the ants don't know if that's high ground or if it's a person, and the ants probably will start attacking once the person realizes that a group of ants are climbing up on top of him.

BURNETT: Central and north Texans may want to keep that in mind as they eye the forecast for the rest of the week. More heavy rains and flash flooding are predicted.

John Burnett, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.