KILLEEN, Texas – The heavy rain that's been hovering over parts of Southeast and Central Texas and caused deadly flooding began to lift Saturday, but officials said the flooding emergency near the Gulf Coast was worsening and Army officials kept up their investigation of a training exercise that turned deadly at Fort Hood.
Only the wheels of an Army transport truck were visible after swift floodwaters washed the 2½-ton vehicle from a low-water crossing on Thursday, killing nine soldiers, Coryell County emergency medical services chief Jeff Mincy told the Killeen Daily Herald. Mincy said he arrived at the scene about 11:30 a.m. Thursday, and that firefighters had already pulled the three surviving soldiers from the rushing waters of usually dry Owl Creek.
"I can't estimate how fast it was flowing, but it was faster than I would have felt comfortable putting anything into the water," Mincy said. "When we did find the vehicle, we could see the tires sticking up out of the water, so in that position where the vehicle settled, it had to have been about 8 feet deep."
The bodies of five soldiers from the Central Texas post were recovered Thursday and four were found Friday, while the three surviving soldiers were discharged Friday from Fort Hood's hospital and returned to duty.
In Southeast Texas, water levels began to recede Saturday along upstream portions of the Brazos River, but the peril increased downstream as the water churned toward the Gulf of Mexico. Emergency officials in Brazoria County warned residents in East Columbia, Bailey's Prairie and Bar-X to be prepared to evacuate their homes.
The Brazos River stood at 52.55 feet near midday Saturday at Rosharon in northern Brazoria County, which is 9.55 feet above flood stage. It is expected to crest at 52.8 feet late Sunday morning — third-highest crest on record at that gauge.
The weather ranged from drizzle to bouts of heavy rain, Brazoria County spokeswoman Sharon Trower said. About 2,000 homes have been ordered evacuated in the Rosharon area, about 30 miles south of Houston, and emergency shelters were filling, she said. No injuries have been reported in the county from the flood. Three prisons in the area have been evacuated since last week.
Except for widely scattered showers in Central and East Texas, the bulk of the rain Saturday was confined to the upper Texas Gulf Coast and the southern tip of Texas. The National Weather Service continued to forecast rain for the area through the weekend, but chances will diminish as the disturbance in the upper atmosphere drifted away.
In Fort Bend County, just southwest of Houston, emergency officials reported seeing slightly improved conditions in flood-struck areas. And while the rain-swollen Brazos has ceased to rise, County Judge Robert Hebert said, some neighborhoods remain cut off by floodwaters and many local streets remain impassable.
"Over the weekend, we expect the mission of the Office of Emergency Management to change from response to recovery. As water levels recede we will be able to get into these inundated areas and assess the damage," he said in a statement.