HOUSTON – The Tuckers thought they were prepared.
The couple knew they lived in a flood-prone area: the Meyerland neighborhood, near Brays Bayou. That’s why, when they built their two-story brick home 27 years ago, they elevated it three feet, higher than the 100-year flood plain, and invested in a generator which they placed even higher in the back yard.
It didn’t flood during tropical storms or even Hurricane Ike in 2008.
“We always thought, boy, were we smart to build the house up,” said Jeff Tucker, a 68-year-old corporate lawyer who’s now retired.
But on Tuesday an overnight storm sent a foot of water gushing into their home. Family photos, Persian rugs, their new Lexus, even the generator _ all left soaked.
“It looked,” Margaret Tucker said, “like we had a house in a lake.”
More than 11 inches of rain transformed their neighborhood and others in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, into a disaster zone and those caught off-guard sheltered where they could overnight: in offices, the Galleria mall, an ice rink and even the Toyota Center, where about 1,000 Houston Rockets fans got stuck after a game. Highways were blocked. Public transportation shut down. Schools closed.
At least four people in the Houston area were killed, hundreds of cars flooded and at least 4,000 homes damaged overnight. One elderly couple was still missing late Tuesday after the fire rescue boat saving them capsized in Braes Bayou. The devastation in the Bayou City raised the death toll from weekend storms to 9 in Texas and 6 in Oklahoma.
Along the Blanco River in central Texas, the storms killed at least two, left 13 missing, 70 homes destroyed and about 1,400 damaged, according to Hays County Commissioner Will Conley.
Among the missing was a group of eight who disappeared after flood waters ripped their vacation home from its foundation, washed it downriver and slammed it into a bridge in Wemberley, about 40 miles southwest of Austin.
Jonathan McComb, 36, of Corpus Christi, was able to escape from the damaged home with a collapsed lung and broken bones and was listed in good condition at San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center.
But his wife and two children, ages 6 and 4, remained missing, along with friends Randy and Michelle Charba, their 4-year-old son and Michelle Charba’s parents, Ralph and Sue Carey, all from Corpus Christi.
“These are great, great families that are affected by this. Three generations of one family are missing right now – the grandparents, parents and a young child who plays with my grandchildren,” said Bill Pettus, a friend of the Careys in Corpus Christi.
Also killed was 18-year-old Alyssa Ramirez, student council president at Devine High School southwest of San Antonio, who officials said drowned after she became stranded Sunday in floodwater while driving home from her senior prom.
President Obama said he had assured Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that he could count on help from the federal government as the state recovers from the floods.
Abbott, who traveled to Houston on Tuesday after touring flooded areas of central Texas by air on Monday, has declared disasters in 40 counties, including Houston’s Harris County.
At a briefing, Abbott said family members of one of his staffers were swept away during the “tsunami-style rise” of the Blanco River and remained missing.
“As far as flooding is concerned, this ranks right up there with Allison,” said Abbott, referring to Tropical Storm Allison, which caused 22 deaths in the Houston region in 2001.
At least 750 flooded cars were towed to city impound lots.
Two of the dead were found in their cars, while the other two were washed into Brays Bayou.
“We are investigating some other reports, so that number is likely to grow,” said Michael Walter, a spokesman for the city’s emergency operations center.
On the Tuckers’ street, firefighters rescued several elderly residents, according to Gerald McTigret, 53, who was house sitting.
“They had three rescue boats going house to house,” down the street, he said.
And firefighters were not the only boaters on the street Tuesday.
“There was also a guy with a sailboat,” McTigret said. “He didn’t have the sail up, but it was funny. Things you don’t expect to see!”
Further up the street, Rola Georges, awoke to find several feet of water rushing in.
“My kids were floating on their mattresses,” she said.
Georges and her husband climbed atop the furniture while she called 911. The water was knee deep. A sunken portion of the living room, which holds a pool table, had become a pool of brown water. Her husband saw a snake swim by.
She gave her 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter snacks and told them to stay put on their mattresses.
Georges, 40, spotted a fire department rescue boat outside the window and tried to hail it, to no avail. Instead, her family waited several hours until the floodwaters receded, then climbed down to start cleaning up.
“We tried to rescue some precious memories: photos and videos,” she said later as she stood beside her wedding portrait. “But when you have a house, it’s a home. Every single thing has a special meaning, a memory.”
A few streets over, Beth Aronson strode under a flooded freeway overpass with her 7-year-old daughter, carrying their three cats in carriers.
Aronson, 51, a psychology professor at Lamar University, said they fled when storm water rushed into their first-floor apartment nearby.
“It’s trashed,” she said, “We went upstairs to a neighbor and just banged on a door and said, ‘Help!’”
A friend pointed to the rushing bayou nearby.
“That was in our living room,” Aronson said.
Now another friend was pulling up to take them to the drier Westchase neighborhood for the night.
“It’ll flood again tonight I’m sure,” Aronson said of her apartment complex as rain began to fall.
More storms were forecast in the region this week. But Houston’s bayous were also receding late Tuesday, and Mayor Parker said officials were optimistic the worst flooding had passed.