TEXAS — Three Fort Hood soldiers are dead and six are missing, the latest victims of an onslaught of flooding in Texas that shows no sign of letting up.
The soldiers’ tactical vehicle overturned at a low-water crossing near Owl Creek at the Central Texas Army base, the public affairs office said. The bodies of three soldiers were recovered downstream; three more were rescued near the vehicle and brought to a hospital in stable condition.
The search continued for six missing soldiers amid a flood watch in effect for the region, after a May that saw record rainfall in locations across Texas. So far, June has not brought a reprieve and more flooding is expected.
CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said more rain is on the way, possibly 6 to 10 inches by Saturday. He warned that saturated ground and swollen creeks, bayous and rivers could not absorb it.
“This could get very serious,” he said. “This is going to be a flood, I think, from here all the way downriver that we have never seen. We are already at record crests.”
Myers said he expected the weather would start turning around late Saturday, but he warned that its aftermath would bring Texans a different threat: mosquitoes.
He said the stagnant water would likely not recede for weeks and the insects were already flying around his shoes. He was walking on sodden grass near a flooded state park in Houston, now under about 10 feet of water.
“This will last for weeks,” he said. “I don’t have to tell you what that means for West Nile, for Zika,” referring to two viruses spread to humans by mosquitoes.
All indicators so far portend more trouble. Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport has already recorded over 80% of its monthly average rain for June, about 5 inches. That follows the last week of May, which also set records for rainfall in the Houston area.
A flash flood watch will be in effect for all of south-central Texas until Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service. The storms could produce rainfall totaling more than 2 inches per hour and 60-plus mph winds.
“These rates, in combination with saturated soils, will result in rapid flash flooding,” the weather service said.
As of May 29, Texas had been inundated with more than 35 trillion gallons of rain, enough to cover the entire state in almost 8 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Lubbock has been particularly hard-hit. Pictures on social media showed residents struggling to cope with rains that have nearly turned streets into rivers.
Fort Bend County, near Houston, is experiencing flooding it called “unprecedented,” the county’s office of emergency management said.
“The most important thing we’re preparing for now is that we’re in the middle of a historic river flood event, and we’re facing severe rainfall,” said Jeff Braun, emergency management coordinator for Fort Bend County. “We are about to get a large amount of rain, and a lot of it will have nowhere to drain.”
Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert said there have been more than 558 rescues and at least 1,400 homes have been affected by the water, a number he said he expects is low.
He noted the water flowing in the Brazos River was at nearly 55 feet elevation under the Richmond Bridge, 4 feet above the previous record set in 1994; it was at 46.2 million gallons per minute.
“That is a lot of water,” he said.
He warned residents to be prepared for quickly rising waters, and he urged them to evacuate in areas where it had been recommended even if the water had not yet entered their homes.
“This is going to be a long event,” he said at a Thursday afternoon news conference. “You have to ask yourself. Do you want to spend four or five days locked in your home, surrounded by water? Do you have the food? Do you have the patience. That would be a problem for me.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in 31 counties due to the flooding.
“Our state continues to face waves of severe weather and potential flooding,” he said. “The state of Texas stands ready to assist all counties affected by severe weather and has dedicated the resources necessary to ensure the safety of those at risk.”
This is the second year in a row that Texas has been hit by 500-year floods, which has caused meteorologists and other experts to point toward climate change or the weather pattern El Niño as potential culprits.
“It could just be really bad luck,” said CNN Senior Meteorologist Brandon Miller. “A 500-year flood doesn’t mean you will go 500 years between them. It just means it is such an extreme event that the odds of it happening are very low, therefore it only happens on average every 500 years.
“It just so happens that parts of Texas have seen them now in back-to-back years, and maybe even twice this year. The odds of that happening are infinitesimally small.”
NASA early in the year warned that EL Niño weather event — characterized by warming waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean — was already one of the three strongest ever recorded.
Climate change is another possible culprit because one of the expected impacts from a warmer climate is heavier rainfall, prompting more flooding, such as the ones in South Carolina last year, Miller said.
But scientists have had mixed results in attributing the flooding to climate change, he said.