The ferocious Blanco River surged into the Perez family’s vacation home, blowing the door off its frame.
“Oh no!” Sarah Perez cried from the second floor.
The torrent of brown water filled the Texas house, creating a whirlpool of chairs and tables.
“It turned the living room into a gigantic washing machine,” Ernie Perez said.
His wife wondered aloud whether she should call 911.
“911 is not going to be able to get to us,” he replied.
Fortunately for the Perez family, firefighters were already in that part of Wimberley, Texas, to check on an elderly neighbor.
“We see flashing lights in the distance. We saw a fire crew with two trucks and a boat.,” Ernie Perez said. “My brother whistles and gets their attention.”
The rescue Saturday night was like a movie, he said, with boats, lines and emergency workers ferrying his family into the dark.
While the Perez family managed to survive, many did not.
At least 35 people have died in the severe weather over the past five days, from either tornadoes or flooding brought on by epic rainfall. Those deaths include 15 in Texas, 14 in northern Mexico and six in Oklahoma.
Nine people remain missing in Texas and it’s not over yet.
More downpours, possible flooding on the way
Houston, one of the hardest-hit cities in the flooding, could see more storms for at least the next five days, the National Weather Service said.
What’s worse: Areas farther north, including Dallas, could get another 2 to 4 inches of rain through Sunday, and parts of eastern Oklahoma will get deluged with 4 to 6 inches of rain. That means runoff could rush downstream to Houston, inundating parts of the city once again.
Southwest of Houston, officials in Wharton, Texas, called for a voluntary evacuation on the western side of the city Wednesday as forecasters warned that the Colorado River was likely to rise above flood stage by Thursday.
Many homes on the west side of the city are already flooded with up to 3 feet of water, National Weather Service said.
In Parker County, Texas, west of Fort Worth, authorities issued a voluntary evacuation order for 250 homes along the Brazos River, which is expected to crest 3 feet above flood stage in the coming days.
And in flood-stricken Hays County, where eight people are still missing, officials are bracing for more havoc.
“We’re very vulnerable right now,” Hays County Commissioner Will Conley said. “If we were to receive a small amount of rain, we could be right back into an emergency situation.”
Tornado hits oil rig
Up in the Texas Panhandle, another storm Wednesday night spawned a tornado that hit an oil rig, Julie Boydston of the Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office said.
Three people were injured, but bad weather has made it difficult to get them to hospitals.
“We had tornadoes dropping everywhere,” Boydston said. “Ambulances (are) driving through the mud.”
More bodies found
While the mammoth flooding from earlier this week slowly subsides, the death toll continues to rise.
On Wednesday, crews found a boy’s body on the banks of the Blanco River, Hays County officials said.
In Houston, after using water pumps, crews found a 31-year-old man in a car parked along an entrance ramp to U.S. 59, the city said.
That marked the sixth death in Houston, where one person is still missing.
In nearby Fort Bend County, deputies found a body Wednesday believed to be a 73-year-old woman who’d been missing since she failed to show up to work at a convenience store Monday night.
The next day, her daughter spotted her car submerged in a creek. The body was found just 50 yards from that spot, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s spokesman Bob Haenel said.
1,400 structures in Houston damaged
In addition to hundreds of stranded vehicles, some 1,400 structures in Houston suffered severe damage as waters crept up.
Saundra Brown recalled her daughter waking her early Sunday with news that “the bayou was rising.”
As the family rolled up their rug, someone knocked on the door asking for shelter after their vehicle got stuck. Soon, it became apparent nobody was going anywhere.
“We just told everybody, ‘Get on the couches,’ ” Brown said. “Then we put the family on the dining room table. (We moved to) the counters next. And if it was going to rise more, we’d go on the roof.”
Six hours later, it was finally safe to get their feet back on the soaked ground. The few days since then have been spent bunking with friends and cleaning up.
“It wasn’t fun,” Brown said. “We’re lucky to have a big support structure.”
Miracles and tragedies
Good things do happen. So does tragedy. Joe McComb knows both.
His son Jonathan, daugther-in-law Laura, grandson Andrew and granddaughter Leighton were in their vacation cabin in Wimberley on Saturday night as the Blanco River swelled.
First, the family moved their cars uphill then went back into the house, which was on stilts. Within a few minutes, as the waters surged, it became evident they wouldn’t be able to get to their cars.
Then came a bang, which Joe McComb thinks was something that knocked the cabin off its foundation and into the raging floodwaters. “All of them gathered in the rooms there, holding onto furniture,” he said. They “started floating down the river,” he said.
Laura McComb called her sister just before the house hit a bridge and broke apart, scattering the family. Jonathan McComb finally got to dry land about 7 to 12 miles away, his father said.
“He said he was fighting the whole time and saying, ‘I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to get out of here,’ ” Joe McComb said Wednesday. “And he said, … ‘Somehow, I was able to get up and catch a breath of air and finally … work myself up.”
Jonathan McComb is now in a hospital with a collapsed lung and broken sternum. As much as he’s hurting from that, he’s hurting more from the fact his beloved wife, his ballet-loving daughter and his baseball-playing son aren’t with him.
“We’re hoping and praying that miracles will happen,” Joe McComb said. “But at the same time, we’re very realistic.”