After 35 trillion gallons of rain, Texans search for the missing – and closure

Thousands of friends, family members, and strangers have been searching for those missing after torrential rain and flooding in Texas. 'Over the past few days, we’ve been absolutely amazed and overwhelmed by the generosity of others,' said one family member.

Gabe Hernandez/Corpus Christi Caller-Times/AP
Volunteer Kim Bernard from Austin walks through a sea of donating clothing Friday May 29, 2015 at the Cypress Creek Church in Wimberley, Texas.

Several Texas rivers were again clawing at their banks as more storms blitzed a flood-ravaged Lone Star State on Saturday.

But as President Obama declared late Friday that “a major disaster exists in the State of Texas,” the constant rains were barely felt by thousands who donned boots and rain jackets to try to find those still missing somewhere in the vast debris field left by a river that rose a staggering 40 feet above its banks.

Mustering at a small church near Wimberley, Texas, over 2,000 professional and volunteer searchers, many of them strangers to the missing, have trudged the flood’s destructive path to look for 8 people who still haven’t been found, most of them from three families whose vacation rental house was wrenched off its pilings, only to crash downstream into a bridge. Only one of the 12 people is known to have survived, badly battered. Three other family members have been found dead.

The somber search for the presumed dead is part of a familiar grasp for closure among those who survive the unbearable power of nature. The usually tranquil Blanco River built into a tsunami-like flood Saturday night, destroying or damaging over 1,000 homes. Overall, the month-long deluge and ensuing floods have killed 42 people, mostly in Texas, but also in Oklahoma and northern Mexico.

But even as floods again threatened parts of Houston and Dallas on Saturday, the bed-and-breakfast town of Wimberley, set in the beautiful hill country southwest of Austin, has become a place where people come not just to seek the missing, but for understanding, even solace, amid the twisted timber.

The sheer amount of volunteers willing to brave snakes, spiders and mud “is inspiring,” John Charba, whose cousin, Randy Charba, remains missing, told the New York Times this week. “Somebody came out alive 12 and a half miles downstream, so there is hope.”

So far, the bodies of three of the people in the house have been found, including a small boy. Two children are still among the missing. Corpus Christi resident Terry Arnold is one of those who had come to search, in his case for people he knows. But he told the Associated Press that, "in Texas we are all family. And we've got to find those babies."

The hushed searches continued even as forecasters warned of more potential flooding as a drought-buster weather pattern has, in essence, pumped some 35 trillion gallons of water out of the Gulf of Mexico and spread it, often torrentially, across Texas and the Central Plains.

It’s enough water to cover the entire state of Texas, the country’s second-largest state behind Alaska, in eight inches of water, the National Weather Service said Friday.

For searchers, the power of such hydraulics, and that impact on human life and people’s property, has awed volunteers who have come to help in the search. “Man, I’m just looking at some of these trees that were pulled down and are completely entangled, and it kind of gives you an idea of the power of this flood,” searcher Stephen Tatum told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

The families of the missing said they were “100 percent committed” to finding their kin, even if the search takes months. On Saturday, volunteers stayed on that mission, sifting through dense debris using rakes and pitchforks, the Associated Press reported.

 “At times, it could be easy to feel cynical about the world around us, this experience has strengthened our faith in God and in humanity,” said Kellye Burke, speaking to the press on behalf of the families. “Over the past few days, we’ve been absolutely amazed and overwhelmed by the generosity of others.”

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