COMFORT, TEX., JULY 17 -- When the rain let up this morning, the Guadalupe River came out of the hills "like a monster -- just brown and mean and steaming," one hospital worker said. At a crossing here in Comfort, it stalled and engulfed a church bus and a van with 43 campers aboard, killing two teen-agers, sweeping eight passengers away and injuring 33.
Melanie Finley, 14, of Mesquite, died when she slipped out of a helicopter harness and fell 100 feet back into the river. Sgt. Charles Seale of the Texas Department of Safety said she may have been injured from fighting the 15-mph current.
"The pilot reported that he looked down and he saw her hands just come off the rope as if she just let loose," department spokesman Mike Cox said.
The second victim was identified as Tonya Smith, 13, of Scurry. Her body was found three miles downstream.
After hauling several children to safety, the helicopters used in the rescue were grounded for fear that they would blow any remaining survivors out of the trees to which many had clung. Rescue workers patroled the river banks till dark, and the search was to resume Saturday with boats and dogs trained to pick up a human scent in the water.
At a news conference late this afternoon, Seale said he held out hope that some of the missing had made their way to nearby farmhouses and have been unable to to call because telephone lines were still down. But he added, "I don't believe there are any survivors."
The bus and the van were taking campers back to Seagoville Road Baptist Church in Balch Springs, near Dallas, from Pot o' Gold camp about 60 miles northwest of San Antonio. Carolyn Wenzel, a nursing supervisor at Peterson Memorial Hospital here, said the wife of a minister with the group told her they had left earlier than planned, because they had been warned about the rising river and hoped to avoid the worst of it.
Trooper Tom Mobley said the bus driver, Richard Coons, 27, followed two other buses into a ford where the road becomes a concrete slab as it cuts through the normally shallow water. The first two buses made the crossing, Coons told police, but their wake stalled his vehicle's engine, and the van was trapped behind him.
Coons said he could see the river rising, and when he could not start the engine again, he began evacuating his passengers, who held hands and tried to form a human chain to the shore. But a fresh wall of water floated the bus, then toppled it and pushed it downstream with several children still aboard.
It was found 150 yards downstream, empty, about 5:30 this afternoon. The van had not surfaced.
"To second-guess what should have been done is an exercise in futility," Seale said this afternoon.
Most of the injured were treated and released at hospitals here and in nearby Kerrville. Three remained in Comfort Community Hospital and two in Kerrville Community Hospital.
Bill Blackburn, director of field operations for the Kerr County sheriff's department, said rescue boats could not be used to search for survivors today because of the high, fierce water was full of treacherous debris.
The National Weather Service in San Antonio said Wednesday night's heavy rains were caused by a block of thunderstorms that stalled for three hours as it moved along the Guadalupe River, leaving 11 inches of rain behind by dawn.
The river, a favorite for recreation, typically flows at a depth of five to 10 feet but had risen to about 19 feet in some places by 6 a.m., an hour before the church buses started across the shallower ford. Mobley estimated the depths of the water on the ford, called Hermann Sons bridge, at about one foot.
"There definitely should have been some way for them to know how deep it was," meteorologist Bill Crouch said, adding that each crossing has a depth gauge.
The river crested at 30 feet later in the day and had begun to subside by 4 p.m., when authorities decided that the helicopters had rescued all the survivors who could be seen and brought the pilots down.
Most of the survivors suffered cuts and bruises, hypothermia or shock. Those who were released were taken to a local elementary school, where Red Cross volunteers worked the few remaining telephone lines to reunite them with their families.
"The unfortunate thing," Crouch said, "is that they were probably perfectly safe where they were." Staff writer David S. Hilzenrath contributed to this report.