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The Year the Rains Came--Worst May Be Yet to Come : Floods: Raging water has taken a toll of lives and property in Southern states. Runoff and saturated ground make for a summer of discontent.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a pistol strapped to his side, Paul Andrews gently throttled up the engine on his flat-bottomed boat and cruised down the ribbon of open space between the trees. The trouble was, only days earlier this had been the road to his house.

Then the floods came, spilling the Trinity River out of its banks. The water roiled around trees and houses and over roads. One estimate Friday was that the Lake Livingston Dam, just to the north of here, was dumping 100,800 cubic feet per second, only slightly less than roars over Niagara Falls.

At least 2,000 homes below the dam are expected to be damaged or destroyed before the flooding is over.

“There’s lots of houses that are underneath already,” said Andrews, who carries a pistol and a shotgun in case he happens upon looters while checking on his own house, undamaged because it is built on pilings.

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The great flood of 1990 is not just isolated to this small bit of East Texas river. It has inundated millions of acres of land, mostly in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, and in some of those places it has been the worst flooding ever recorded.

There also has been other flooding through the heart of the nation, from Michigan to the Gulf Coast and as far east as New York state.

At least 12 people have died as a result of the flooding. Millions of dollars worth of crops have been destroyed and thousands of cattle have had to be moved to higher ground in the last two weeks. While the misery of people living along rivers has already been acute, there is still more to come, with some speculation that the Trinity will be at flood level through the rest of the summer.

The unknown at the moment is how much more rain will fall in the region.

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“That area is going to be vulnerable for at least three weeks,” said Scott Kroczynski, a hydrometeorologist with the National Weather Service in Washington.

Forecasters have known for a long time that this flooding was coming. The conditions in this part of the country were ripe for a disaster.

“It was setting itself up through late summer and early spring,” said Kroczynski. “It had the highest potential in the nation.”

Storms kept raking across the same places. The earth was soaked and the rivers were already high. Then, two weeks ago, the rains began falling in North Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The people down here saw that in the news and knew that trouble was on the way.

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Little Rock was the first to weather a flood surge of the Arkansas River. In the days since then, thousands of people have been in a holding pattern, waiting to see what happens to their homes.

One of those was Sue Edmondson, who was just back from having a look at her home, which was only inches away from having water slosh on to her floors. She had spent the days before the flood moving things either out of the house or up on blocks.

“My ice box is on blocks,” she said. “I have to get on a chair to open my freezer.”

She was also angry with the managers of the dam, saying they knew there was going to be flooding, but did not release any water in advance of the rushing flood.

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“It might have flooded, but it wouldn’t have gotten our homes,” she said.

The flood has brought with it tragedy and also its share of ingenuity, along with a great many snakes that are clearly upset about the flooding.

There was the Louisiana couple that committed suicide, apparently because the floodwaters dealt them another in a long string of blows to their farm.

But there was also Howard Pipkins, the man who refused to quit. Pipkins, whose newly built home was located near the Trinity River, did something no one else attempted when he heard the flood was coming: He began to dig. He built a six-foot levee around his home and, as of Friday, the homemade dam was holding.

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“If it doesn’t work, I’ll just look like the biggest fool around here,” Pipkins told reporters earlier this week.

Finally, there was Walter (Skeet) Rogers in Powhatan, La. For the last several days he has been moving his crop. The crop, however, was alligators and he had to move 4,000 of them to escape the advancing floodwaters.

Back in Hardin, Andrews guided his boat past his own home and on to that of his neighbor, LeRoy Myers. That house, too, had been spared because it had been built on stilts. Andrews quickly walked up the stairs, turned on a radio inside and returned to the boat.

“Maybe that will discourage someone from trying to get in,” he said.

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Andrews pointed to a spot not far away and said it was where the high-water bridge crossed the bayou. There was nothing there but water.


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