WIMBERLEY, Texas – The vacation house where two families were to spend 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.
The fate of those who were inside the home was still unclear Tuesday. Recovery teams were to resume looking for a group of people who may have been 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. At least 17 people were reported killed by the storms in Texas and Oklahoma.
Meteorologists say storms that have been virtually parked over Texas for weeks are not yet done, raising the prospect of even more flooding.
Some of the worst damage so far has been in Wimberley, a popular bed-and-breakfast getaway surrounded by vineyards near Austin.
Hundreds of trees on the banks of the Blanco, which crested to a record 40-plus feet and tripled its flood stage, toppled on or near houses.
“You cannot candy coat it. It’s absolutely massive,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said after touring the destruction.
Witnesses said the vacation house was carried into the river by floodwaters and crashed into a bridge downstream. Bent concrete pylons and a few scattered horseshoes remained on the home’s limestone slab.
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.
Eight people missing from the destroyed house were friends and family who had gathered for the holiday, said Kristi Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the City of San Marcos. Three children, two age 6 and another 4, were among the missing.
Rescue teams planned to end their search efforts and move into a recovery phase.
“When you hit a bridge moving at 35 to 40 mph on the river, it’s equivalent to a 70 mph head-on” collision, said Hays County Judge Bert Cobb.