Swollen river feeds flooding near Houston as residents flee

RICHMOND, Texas (AP) — Residents of some rural southeastern Texas counties were bracing for more flooding Tuesday along a river that had reached a record-high crest just two years after it had run dry in places because of drought.

The National Weather Service said the Brazos River crested at nearly 54 feet Tuesday in Fort Bend County, which is just southwest of Houston and home to many suburbs. That eclipsed the previous record by three feet and exceeded levels reached in 1994, when extensive flooding caused major damage.

Aerial photos taken Sunday showed large swaths of Fort Bend County under water, and about 1,000 people had been evacuated from their homes there as of Tuesday morning, the Houston Chronicle reported. The skies were clear in the region on Tuesday, but an additional 1 to 3 inches of rain expected later this week could keep the Brazos in major flood stage into the weekend.

During four days of torrential rain last week, six people died in floods along the Brazos, which runs from New Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico. A Brazos River Authority map showed that all 11 of the reservoirs fed by the Brazos were at 95 to 100 percent capacity.

Four of the six dead were recovered in Washington County, which is between Austin and Houston, County Judge John Brieden said Monday. Lake Somerville, one of the Brazos reservoirs, was "gushing uncontrollably" over the spillway and threatening people downriver, he said.

About 40 people were rescued Sunday and Monday from low-lying homes in a flooded neighborhood of Simonton, a Fort Bend County community of about 800 residents. The county had set up a pumping system to divert the water from the neighborhood, but it was overpowered by the flooding, county spokeswoman Beth Wolf said Monday.

Wolf said any additional rain in southeastern Texas would be a problem.

"The ditches are full, the river's high, there's nowhere else for that water to go," she said.

In the Fort Bend County city of Rosenberg, about 150 households had been evacuated by Monday, and city officials were coordinating with the county's office of emergency management to have rescue boats in place, city spokeswoman Jenny Pavlovich said Monday. In neighboring Richmond, a voluntary evacuation order was in place.

Abigail Salazar, a Richmond resident who lives near the Brazos, said Tuesday that as the river rises, so does her anxiety.

"I'm scared," she said. "My kids ask me in the morning, 'Ma, what happened? The water is here.' "

Scott Overpeck, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said Tuesday that the Brazos will recede in the coming days but that its levels will remain high for up to three weeks, in part because water will need to be released from the swollen reservoirs upriver.

"There's so much water on the Brazos that it's going to take a long time to drain through the whole river and drain out into the Gulf of Mexico," Overpeck said.

Elsewhere, authorities continued searching for the body of an 11-year-old boy who fell into a creek in Wichita, Kansas, and is presumed dead. Relatives have identified the boy as Devon Dean Cooley, who disappeared Friday night.

Devon's family, in a statement Monday, thanked firefighters for their tireless efforts to find the boy. The family held a cookout Monday evening to feed the rescue crews, followed by a candlelight vigil.


Associated Press writer Jim Suhr in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.