Texas Emergency Management ONLINE2010 Vol. 57 No. 2

HERMINE: MEXICO STORMS CAN MEAN TRAGEDY IN TEXAS

National Weather Service Image of Texas Flood Fatalities Since 1996, flash floods have claimed 198 lives in Texas. Image courtesy of the National Weather Service.

When colorful maps on weather programs show storm tracks headed to specific areas along the Texas Gulf Coast, coastal residents generally heed the message to be prepared and check their emergency plans. But Texans who live miles away from the beach also need to listen up, monitor media – and be extra cautious when a tropical storm is anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico.

Four Hermine fatalities resulted when drivers in Texas attempted to cross through flooded roadways. Hector Guerrero of the National Weather Service said: “Tropical Storm Hermine showed us, once again, that driving into a flooded roadway is just not safe. Always remember, when you come to a flooded road, Turn Around, Don't Drown.”

Tropical Storm Hermine made landfall in Mexico, 40 miles south of Brownsville around 8:30 p.m. on Labor Day, and swept over the Rio Grande Valley. By Sept. 7, Hermine was a tropical depression, dumping record amounts of rain along the I-35 corridor. Rainfall amounts of 12 to 14 inches were recorded in areas of Central Texas and North Texas.

Four Texas Task Force 1 swiftwater rescue teams were deployed, along with 48 Texas Military Forces personnel, 10 high profile vehicles and two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. Gov. Rick Perry issued a state disaster declaration for 40 counties, and requested a federal declaration as well. Numerous swiftwater rescues were completed successfully. Gov. Perry said: “One life lost is too many, but we are grateful to our brave first responders who risked their own lives to ensure the toll wasn’t even higher.”

Guerrero said that more Texans drown in the area known as Flash Flood Alley than any other area of the state. That area includes the Central Texas Hill Country through San Antonio, Austin and on up I-35. But there have been flash flood deaths in El Paso County in far west Texas, Webb County on the Mexican border – and Jefferson and Shelby counties on the Louisiana border. Guerrero said there have been a total of 198 flood drowning deaths in Texas since 1996 – 13 this year alone.

“Sadly there are many reasons why 13 people drowned this year as they drove or walked into a flooded low water crossing or underpass,” Guerrero said. “Eight occurred in Flash Flood Alley and five elsewhere. Most deaths were vehicle related, but a few of these occurred when they tried to walk into the water. Although some drownings are unavoidable, please make the right decision when you come to a flooded road: Turn Around Don't Drown.”