Ten bodies were removed from waters as deep as 17 feet in the streets of Austin, Tex., yesterday after a sudden torrent of wind and rain set off flash flooding through the city's downtown area Sunday night. Police said four persons were missing, and helicopters continued to skim over the receding stream banks looking for bodies.
At the same time, the state of Florida remains parched and burning as erratic weather patterns continue across the nation. The two huge new fires were burning in the Everglades and water restrictions were getting tighter for more that seven million residents of south Florida.
The flash flood in austin occurred after seven inches of rain fell on the city Sunday to end a long dry period. After four months of deepening drought, Austin was a half-inch over its normal average rainfall yesterday. The flood covered eight blocks of downtown, washing two feet over car roofs at some intersections, and drove 50 people from their homes in the northwest section of the city to an emergency evacuation center.
Most of the victims were trapped in their cars.
A normally tiny creek in north Austin burst its banks "like a whirlpool that sucked everything in," said Mike Sheridan, night auditor at the Sunrise Motor Hotel.
Sheridan watched helplessly as a pickup truck slid down the bank from a parking lot into fast-moving, muddy water. ". . . It looked like it floated backwards," he said. "I could've sworn I saw someone jump on the tailgate before it went down. I saw arms. . . ."
A first rescue attempt failed, but firemen later pulled one dead man and one still alive from the sunken truck.
The worst flooding was along the banks of the Shoal Creek, which flows through residential areas and skirts the business district. Several of the flood victims were found near the creek on hiking trails and near boat landings.
Scores of businesses were flooded, including five car dealerships where cars "were stacked like cordwood," police reported. "About 30 to 50 percent of the inventory supposed to be on this lot is gone," said Dale Dillon, part owner of a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer located downtown near Shoal Creek. "They're in the creek somewhere between here and Town Lake."
Scattered looting was reported in flooded stores.
Winds of up to 60 miles an hour were measured in Austin, and across the state several tornadoes and hail ranging from golfballs to baseball size were reported.
The National Weather Service reported that thunderstorms were expected in Austin through the night. More rain was due in the eastern and southeastern parts of Texas last night and again today, with heavy storms and rainfall expected on the Gulf Coast near Galveston.
Heavy rain, hail and tornadoes lashed Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Colorado, Tennessee and southern Indiana Sunday. In Cape Girardeau, Mo., two tornadoes injured one person and destroyed 20 homes, six businesses and a church.
People in Montana yesterday were just beginning to return to their homes after five days of rain and the worst flooding in 20 years. Sewer and water systems in Cascade County were still out yesterday.
In Florida, still without substantial rain after months of hot, dry weather, huge new forest fires are burning in the Big Cypress Swamp national preserve and in state forests not far from the swamp.
More than 150,000 of the 500,000 acres in the Big Cypress have been destroyed in the past two weeks.
Three of the five water districts in Florida have imposed water restrictions on residents, said Sheila Niddaugh of the South Florida Water Management District.