2 women killed; swept away in severe San Antonio flooding

Posted on: 9:21 pm, May 25, 2013, by , updated on: 08:34am, May 26, 2013

By Greg Botelho, CNN

(CNN) — Two women died Saturday from raging floodwaters in San Antonio, including one who was swept away after rescue workers nearly reached her.

At one point Saturday, a storm and subsequent flash floods had knocked out power to about 12,000 customers and spurred the closure of dozens of streets in the southern Texas city and the surrounding county, authorities said.

The worst of the rainfall is over, according to CNN’s weather center, as cloudbursts are disappearing from the area’s weather forecast.

River levels are expected to make a quick retreat, according to the National Weather Service.

Scores of people had to be evacuated due to floods and other issues, and Fire Chief Charles Hood noted there had been about 250 water-related calls in the first 15 hours of Saturday.

The first confirmed fatality — a woman around age 30 — was reported around 7:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m. ET), and her body was found about three hours later, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said.

Some time later, an older female driver went into water that was 4 feet above flood markers. Firefighters got to her vehicle and broke a window — with one firefighter cutting his hand — Hood said. Then, as the would-be rescuers tried to extract her from her vehicle, “the currents changed and washed that vehicle away,” the fire chief said.

The woman’s car had rolled on top of the rescue boat, forcing out the firefighters who’d been in it, fire department spokesman Christian Bove later said. By the time they were able to climb back into the boat, her car had become submerged in the roughly 25-foot deep water and was gone.

Hood characterized authorities’ subsequent efforts to find this woman as “a body recovery.”

The victim, believed to be in her late 60s, was found dead inside her vehicle around 6:45 p.m., Bove said.

“You can imagine how emotionally spent you are to try to rescue somebody, you’re face-to-face with them, and then they’re washed away,” Hood said of his distraught firefighters, who’d gotten so close to rescuing the woman only to lose her.

The chief warned more people may be missing and perhaps dead. Firefighters happened to spot this woman going into the water before they rushed to rescue her; there may be others, Hood pointed out, who firefighters or others don’t see get trapped in floodwaters.

The problems began with torrential rains late Friday that continued into Saturday.

San Antonio International Airport received 9.57 inches of rain Saturday morning alone, CNN meteorologists said.

In an interview Saturday with CNN affiliate KENS, San Antonio resident Mary Alice Galicia described how water enveloped her house.

“It was underwater 20 minutes ago,” she said. “I came over here. I own the property, and my daughter said that she couldn’t get to her car. Her car’s all flooded. The property — the water’s all swarming through the whole house. I just came over to check to see what I could do, but there’s nothing that I can do right now.”

San Antonio’s previous record flooding in 1998 was devastating, caused by heavy rains throughout south Texas and by a plume of moist air from Hurricane Madeline off the Mexican west coast. A total of 11 people died in San Antonio that weekend, with property damage estimates at $750 million, a city report said.

In all, the south Texas weather killed 31 people during that October 1998 weekend: 26 drownings, two tornado deaths, two heart attacks and one electrocution-drowning, a federal report said. At least 17 of the drowning victims were in vehicles driving into the water or swept away by rising water, the U.S. Commerce Department report said.

CNN’s Janet DiGiacomo, Ben Brumfield, Michael Martinez and Tom Watkins contributed to this report.