FORT WORTH, Texas – Lisa Asberry Davis said on Saturday that she and her three children waded to safety through water up to their chins after torrential rains in East Texas swamped a cul-de-sac of homes during the night and forced some residents onto rooftops.
Firefighters lifted them out of the water at a rescue point but Davis' cousin and the woman's four great-grandchildren who lived down the street in Palestine, Texas, didn't make it.
The bodies of Davis' cousin, 64-year-old Lenda Asberry, and her great-grandchildren, 6-year-old Jamonicka Johnson; 7-year-old Von Anthony Johnson Jr.; 8-year-old Devonte Asberry and 9-year-old Venetia Asberry were found in the receding water. The bodies of two of the children were in the front yard of a residence near the street. Asberry and the two other children were found behind the neighborhood, Palestine Police Spokesman Nate Smith said.
Authorities found a sixth body later on Saturday, identified as 30-year-old Giovani Olivas of Palestine, who was swept under the flood waters. Autopsies were being performed on all six victims and results will be known Monday, Smith said.
"The water got up here extraordinarily quickly. The individuals tried to get out, however, the water was already on the roof of the home," Palestine Police Department Capt. James Muniz said.
Merta White was waiting to be rescued from the roof of her house when she saw a bump in the water, the Palestine Herald-Press reported.
"I thought it was a mailbox, but then I realized what it really was, and I started screaming," she said of seeing the body.
In less than an hour, more than 7 inches of rain had accumulated at the city's water treatment plant.
City officials used a dump truck to rescue a man from the roof of a home, Muniz said. One neighbor told authorities that he saw the family who were killed but lost sight of them as he waded through water.
"The water came down the hill," Muniz said. "The street was full of mud, so the water just came up. With the enormous amount of rain we had, we had people tell us that within minutes, the water was waist deep."
The Red Cross set up a makeshift shelter in Palestine, which is about 100 miles southeast of Dallas and home to about 18,000 residents. Between 20 and 30 people were displaced by the floods, according to Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster.
One person, a 30-year-old man, remained missing in rural Anderson County, Smith said.
Palestine Mayor Bob Herrington signed an emergency declaration on Saturday, saying that he had not seen so much water rise so fast in the 59 years he'd lived there.
About 35 homes sustained major damage, businesses in the low-lying areas were flooded, and a railroad track was washed out, Smith said.
When Davis spoke to AP, she was trying to salvage items from her damp, muddied home, and console her children, who went to the same school as Asberry's great-grandchildren. The two families attended church together.
Davis said Asberry had relocated to Palestine from Dallas several years ago.
"She was just looking for a nice place to raise her kids," she said.