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More Rain Adds to Flood Threat in Parts of Texas : Weather: Officials in Wharton urge 1,800 to evacuate their homes. Many waiting until last minute. Colorado River expected to crest today.

From Associated Press

Downpours continued Thursday in rain-soaked southeast Texas, increasing the threat of flooding along already swollen rivers. President Bush declared the region a disaster area.

Officials in Wharton urged 1,800 persons to leave their homes as water from the Colorado River moved into their neighborhood, but many appeared to be waiting until the last minute.

Benny McDonald, 59, said he was not ready to leave.

“I have my exit planned in case things go bad,” McDonald said, surveying the Colorado River as he held his dog, Tank.

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The river was expected to crest this morning at 48 feet, about nine feet above flood stage. It was five feet above flood stage Thursday.

Seven people spent Christmas night in a shelter at the Wharton Junior High School gymnasium, even though officials were prepared for hundreds. Two people were at the shelter Thursday.

“All I can do is warn them,” said City Manager Robert Miller, expressing frustration at the lack of response.

“Our main worry is that people will be waiting too long,” said Larry Hollingsworth, the city’s director of emergency preparedness.

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Eleven-year-old Bryan Anderson was playing on the gymnasium floor with a remote control car that he received for Christmas.

“I got a lot of toys but I had to leave them at home. I brought my best toy,” he said. “Our house is not flooded but the river is right behind us.”

Wharton, a city of 10,000 residents, is about 75 miles southwest of Houston.

Across Texas, flooding caused by several days of heavy rain has killed at least 15 people, swamped farmland, drowned scores of livestock and caused millions of dollars in damage.

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Weather officials said flood damage is likely throughout southeast Texas over the next several days as rain-swollen rivers carry water to the Gulf of Mexico. Thursday’s rain, including more than an inch at Houston, added to the problem because the ground is too saturated to absorb much water.

The Brazos River was about four miles wide northwest of Houston, and the Trinity River isolated low-lying communities between Dallas and Houston. The Guadalupe River was flooding near Victoria, about 65 miles southwest of Wharton.

In Victoria, dozens of homes and automobiles were under water Thursday. Officials had no estimate on the number of people who fled their homes because of flooding, but Victoria Fire Department safety officer Doug Erdy said that 15 people were staying at a Salvation Army shelter.

Red Cross spokesman Greg Hill said nearly 200 homes in Dallas were flooded by the Trinity River. More than 500 homes have been flooded in a 14-county region of north Texas, he said.

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Bush plans to inspect the flood damage today before beginning a three-day quail hunting vacation in Texas.


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