RECOVERY teams were resuming a search early yesterday for 12 members of two families who were missing after a rain-swollen river in Texas carried a vacation home off its foundations, slamming it into a bridge downstream.
The hunt for the missing families intensified after a holiday weekend of storms that dumped record rainfall on the American heartland, caused major flooding, and spawned tornadoes and killed at least eight people in Oklahoma and Texas.
More than 1,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed in Texas, and thousands of residents are displaced.
Authorities were also searching for victims and assessing damage just across the Texas-Mexico border in Ciudad Acuna, where a tornado killed 13 people on Monday and left at least five unaccounted for.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared disasters in 37 counties, allowing for further mobilisation of state rescue resources to assist. “You cannot candy coat it. It’s absolutely massive,” Mr Abbott said after touring the destruction.
The worst flooding damage was in Wimberley, where the vacation home was swept away.
It is a popular tourist town on the Blanco River in the corridor between Austin and San Antonio.
Trey Hatt, a spokesman for the Hays County Emergency Operations Centre, said that the “search component” of the mission was over, meaning no more survivors were expected to be found in the flood debris.
Witnesses reported seeing the swollen river push the home off its foundation and smash it into a bridge.
Only pieces of the home have been found, Hays County Judge Bert Cobb said.
One person who was rescued from the home told workers that the other 12 inside were all connected to two families, Mr Cobb said. Young children were among those believed to be missing.
The Blanco crested above 40 feet – more than triple its normal flood level of 13 feet.
The river swamped a busy north-south highway and forced parts of it to close. Rescuers used pontoon boats and a helicopter to pull people out.
Hundreds of trees along the Blanco were uprooted or snapped, and they collected in piles of debris up stream.
Flooding wreaked havoc on Monday afternoon in Austin, where emergency crews responded to more than 20 high-water rescues, and later in Houston, where the National Weather Service declared a flash-flood emergency and an announcer at a Houston Rockets game asked fans not to leave because of severe weather.
Harris County Flood District, which includes Houston, advised residents not leave their homes yesterday after the weather service issued a flash-flood warning for parts of the county.
Before the sun rose yesterday, emergency crews used helicopters and boats to help residents evacuate their flooded homes.
The storm system also prompted reports of tornadoes across the state and was blamed for four deaths.
They were a man whose body was pulled from the Blanco; a 14-year-old who was found with his dog in a storm drain; a high school senior who died on Saturday after her car was caught in high water; and a man whose mobile home was destroyed by a reported tornado.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management reported four fatalities between Saturday and Monday across the state, which also saw severe flooding and reported tornadoes.