WIMBERLEY, Texas (AP) — The vacation house where two families came for Memorial Day weekend was already gone, swept down the swollen Blanco River, when Carissa Smith's husband arrived. All he found was a Chevrolet Suburban slammed against a tree, the engine running.
Authorities say recovery teams Tuesday morning will resume looking for as many as a dozen people who were staying at the two-story house in this small town in the Texas Hill Country, where punishing rains and other severe weather have destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 homes and killed at least four people statewide over the long holiday weekend. Meteorologists say storms that have been virtually parked over Texas for weeks are not yet through, raising the prospect of even more flooding.
The worst so far has been in Wimberley, a popular bed-and-breakfast getaway near Austin and surrounded by wine vineyards. Hundreds of trees on the banks of the Blanco River, which crested to a record 40-plus feet and tripled its flood stage, broke like matchsticks and toppled on or near houses.
"You cannot candy coat it. It's absolutely massive," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said after touring the destruction.
Bent concrete pylons and a few scattered horseshoes remained on the limestone slab where neighbors say the two families got caught fast-rising flood. Hays County Judge Bert Cobb said 12 people who remain missing were all at the house, which crashed into a bridge downstream after being carried into the river by floodwaters.
At the top of a small slope that had led down to the house, the back wheels of a Suburban dangled above a ditch and its tailgate was smashed against a tree. Smith, who owns the land next door, said the car belonged to the homeowner.
"We think he went back in to get everybody out. Problem is, the house is up on stilts, so when they climb down the stairs, they had to climb into the water to get out," said Smith, whose aunt and mother both live nearby. "And I'm sure they realized that when they got in there, it was too late."
Smith said she had spoken to relatives of the homeowner, a retired doctor. Young children were among those believed to be missing.
Trey Hatt, a spokesman at the Hays County Emergency Operations Center, said that "the search component is over" for missing people and that teams would now move into a recovery phase.
"When you hit a bridge moving at 35-40 mph on the river, it's equivalent to a 70 mph head-on (collision)," Cobb said of the house.
Just across the Texas-Mexico border in Ciudad Acuna, a tornado killed more than a dozen people Monday. Forecasters say a strong storm system over the southwest U.S. for several weeks is responsible for the storm outbreak as a combination of tropical moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and dry West Texas produces lines of damaging storms.
Flooding wreaked havoc late Monday afternoon in Austin, where emergency crews responded to more than 20 high-water rescues. Flooding made downtown streets impassable and spilled over into a high school football stadium, covering the entire field and splashing into the stands.
Heavy rain later caused trouble in Houston, where the National Weather Service declared a flash flood emergency.
An estimated 350 to 400 homes were destroyed in Wimberley, and about 1,000 homes were damaged throughout Hays County.
The governor has declared disaster areas in 37 counties so far, in mostly the eastern half of the state. That allows for further mobilization of state resources to assist disaster-struck communities.