Catastrophic Flooding Sweeps Away Homes, Breaks Records

CREDIT: AP Photo/ Tamir Kalifa

Jake Navarro looks out over a flooded Onion Creek on Thursday Oct. 31, 2013 in Austin, Texas. The National Weather Service said more than a foot of rain fell in Central Texas, including up to 14 inches in Wimberley, since rainstorms began Wednesday.

Three people have been confirmed dead after record rainfall across the south-central United States led to flash flooding over the weekend across Texas and Oklahoma.

In Claremore, Oklahoma, a firefighter was killed early Sunday after he was swept away during a water rescue.

Another eight people, including three children, are missing after the Wimberley, Texas vacation house they were staying in was swept away during the flash floods. Three people are also missing in San Marcos, Texas.

The Blanco River in Wimberley rose to 41 feet — 28 feet above flood level and seven feet higher than the previously recorded record in 1928 — before the flood gauge washed out. The river reportedly rose 33 feet in just three hours.

“We do have whole streets that have maybe one or two houses left on them, and the rest are just slabs,” said Kharley Smith, emergency management coordinator in Hays County, Texas, CNN reported.

The area is not yet secure. Water-logged ground and high rivers and lakes mean even a couple of inches could spell more flooding for the area. The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Watch from Monday to early Tuesday morning for most of South Central Texas. More thunderstorms, as well as tornados and “baseball-sized” hail, are predicted Monday across portions of central and eastern Texas and southern Oklahoma.

The rain comes at the end of a long period of drought in Texas. Just four years ago, nearly all of the state was in extreme drought. Then-Gov. Rick Perry told Texans to “pray for rain.” He renewed the state of emergency in 2013.

But after record-breaking rainfall this spring, no portion of Texas or Oklahoma was in extreme drought as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Going from one extreme to another is a hallmark of climate change. Scientists predict more droughts in the coming decades, as well as more intense rainstorms. In the midwest, the number of storms that drop more than three inches of rain have increased by 50 percent, according to an analysis from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Texas and Oklahoma both face intensifying drought and flooding, although politicians in both states have denied climate change. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Texas “has yet to formally address climate change preparedness” — one of only 12 states to not have taken any steps toward addressing the impacts of climate change on water resources.

“Between more intense rainstorms and sea level rise, flooding will only increase if we don’t address climate change,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.