Torrential rains flooded nearly 800 homes in southern Texas on Monday, forcing frantic rescues by boat and sending families scrambling for high ground before they returned to salvage belongings from swamped homes.
More than 13 inches (33 centimeters) of rain fell in some parts of Starr County. The worst of the flooding was north of the Rio Grande Valley's main highway, where a "lake" 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) long and a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide ran through neighborhoods in Escobares and Los Saenz, small communities east of Roma.
"It's really in a bad situation now," said Gene Falcon, Starr County emergency management coordinator. Emergency workers were using any boat available to remove people from their homes. Two shelters were opened in the county at one point.
Jose Garcia, fire and police chief in Roma, said floodwaters had started to recede in the city Monday afternoon, but he was not sure they had seen the last of the rain.
Roma received about 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain in three hours early Monday, and water pooled at depths of 6 inches (15 centimeters) to 4 feet (1.2 meters), he said. About 60 people were rescued from flooded homes and taken to a local community center. The water was as much as 3 or 4 feet (90 centimeters or 1.2 meters) deep in some neighborhoods at dusk. Authorities said an estimated 750 homes were flooded.
Javier Gonzalez and Nilsa Avila slogged through murky water back to a highway with black garbage bags on their shoulders. Their house is built on a high foundation, but Avila showed the distance between the water and her front door with a spread of her thumb and forefinger.
"It's risen in the last three hours," Avila said in Spanish. The disaster had already arrived for Noelia Lopez, who
marched out of the floodwaters empty handed.
"I can't even get clothes," Lopez said in Spanish. "It's up to the mattresses."
It rained hard through the night in Starr County and continued through the morning, but people said that when they left for work there was no flooding.
Lopez said she watched the water start to pool in the yard around noon, then saw that after 1 p.m. the house was suddenly surrounded. "It came in through all three doors that I have," she said. At 8:30 p.m. there were 38 people in a shelter at Roma as the rain began to fall again.
U.S. Highway 83 was closed all afternoon after Arroyo Quiote topped its banks, running as much as a foot and a half (45 centimeters) above the guardrails. Motorists trying to reach Roma from the east were sent on a long traffic-clogged detour to the north.
About 10,000 people live in Roma, about 210 miles (340 kilometers) south of San Antonio.
The impact of so much rain was compounded because the ground was still saturated from Hurricane Dolly in late July, Falcon, of Starr County emergency management.