In flooded Texas, authorities try to aid stranded neighborhoods, cattle

33 people have been killed in storms that began drenching Texas and Oklahoma on Memorial Day weekend

Rural riverfront communities in Texas have grown accustomed to flooding -- elevating homes and investing in boats, jet skis and all-terrain vehicles to weather the inevitable storms.

But how do you weatherproof hundreds of head of cattle?

About 40 miles northeast of Houston, ranchers were using an air boat to corral and feed a herd of about 500 cattle after they became stranded by flooding Saturday along the Trinity River that turned their pasture into an island outside the city of Liberty.

“That’s about $1 million in cows,” said Tom Branch, Liberty County emergency management director. “They’ve been trying to get them out of there for days.”

The Trinity River bisects Liberty County, where about a dozen subdivisions with roughly 600 homes sprang up along the river, mostly elevated homes. So far Saturday, none had flooded, Branch said. About half the residents evacuated. Officials opened a shelter, but only a dozen people stayed overnight.

“Most people just take care of themselves along the river,” Branch said.

But he was concerned about several inches of additional rain expected late Saturday.

“I hope we don’t get that serious rain. Any kind of rainfall over the river creates more problems,” he said.

Thirty-three people have been killed in storms that began over Memorial Day weekend, with six victims in Oklahoma and 27 in Texas.

Searchers on Saturday found the body of a 12-year-old girl who disappeared in Galveston on Thursday while swimming on a field trip to the island with fellow sixth-graders and teachers from the KIPP Voyage Academy for girls in northeast Houston.

KIPP, in Houston, posted a letter on Facebook on Saturday saying Samira Carlon's body had been recovered.

“She was deeply beloved at KIPP Voyage, with a constant smile that lit up a room. She was positive, curious, and energetic in her approach to learning and a caring teammate,” the letter said. “She was an exemplary student and showed passion for every one of her classes.”

Scott Overpeck, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration based outside Houston, said a strong, slow-moving storm could dump up to 7 inches of rain on the Houston area starting Saturday afternoon, with rain falling fast in places -- up to 2 inches an hour.

“The hard thing is we can’t exactly pinpoint one area” where the rain will fall, he said, but further flooding is likely.

“Our whole area can’t really handle more than 3 inches of rain. Everything’s going to run off into the rivers and bayous and cause more problems,” Overpeck said.

Bayous in the Houston area have dipped since flooding last week, he said, but the Brazos, San Jacinto and Trinity rivers were all elevated.

With rain still falling in the Dallas area Saturday morning, the National Weather Service extended a flash-flood warning there and in surrounding counties. So far, the area has reported two storm-related deaths, including that of a man whose body was found floating in standing water Friday, according to Dallas police spokesman Juan Fernandez.

This is the wettest month on record in the state, as well as the wettest May in Dallas, which received 16.07 inches of rain, beating a record set in 1982, according to Jamie Gudmespad, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

About 70 miles west of Dallas in Parker County, the Brazos River swelled to 23.85 feet and a flood warning was extended Saturday, although no homes had flooded, according to Joel Kertok, a spokesman for the county’s office of emergency management.

The river was expected to crest at 26 feet overnight, he said.

“The good news would be that with no additional rainfall in the forecast, the river should fall below flood stage late Monday,” he said, but on Saturday, “it remains dangerous. People are making good decisions so far. We have avoided any injuries or fatalities. But the river is still coming up and flowing extremely fast.”

Outside Houston, the Brazos, Colorado and San Jacinto rivers were all treacherous Saturday, filled with runoff downstream toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Authorities warned those living in about half a dozen subdivisions on the San Jacinto River’s west fork that street flooding could trap them inside their homes for days.

About 60 miles southwest of Houston in Wharton, forecasters said, the Colorado River could crest on Saturday, causing major flooding.

About 30 homes on three streets near the river faced a mandatory evacuation overnight, and about half a dozen people stayed at a shelter at a middle school, but no homes or businesses had flooded by Saturday, according to City Secretary Paula Favors.

Favors said the river was close to cresting at noon at 42.7 feet, and once it crests, “we do expect a significant drop-off fairly quickly.”

“We are watching the line of storms coming into Texas now, since everything is saturated and not draining off,” she said.

In Liberty County, officials opened floodgates at Lake Livingston on Saturday and were releasing about 72,600 cubic feet of water per second for the fourth day in a row, keeping the Trinity River elevated at 29.8 feet — 3.8 feet above flood stage, said Branch, the emergency manager.

Liberty, the county seat, has a population of about 9,000 and was inundated by a historic flood in 1994.

“The big part of the Trinity you worry about most is the city of Liberty. But there’s a levee around the city, so as long as that holds, you don’t have as many people affected. And it’s in good shape,” he said.

The levy, built after the 1994 inundation, was designed to protect against a 33-foot flood.

Though Lake Livingston appears to be dropping thanks to the river releases, Branch said he was concerned about rain expected late Saturday as storms rolled in.

“All the water from up by Dallas comes down into the lake. The question is, how low can they get the lake before that arrives without releasing more water?” Branch said. “That’s next week’s job.”

Twitter: @mollyhf 

Times staff writer Katie Shepherd in Los Angeles contributed to this report. 

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

9:32 p.m.: This article has been revised throughout for additional details.

2:42 p.m.: This story has been updated to report the death of Samira Carlon and conditions in the city of Wharton and Liberty County.

This story originally published at 12:53 p.m.

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