Emergency crews on Monday were searching for four men whose recreational vehicle was among those swept away from an RV park by raging floodwaters that prompted dramatic rescues by helicopters and boats in a small West Texas city.
Heavy rains started falling Sunday night, causing the South Llano River to rise in Junction, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) west of Austin. Kimble County Sheriff Hilario Cantu said no fatalities had been confirmed but that “all the RVs, everything, got swept away.”
Texas Game Warden Rachel Kellner said the four missing men worked together and were swept away before daybreak by the South Llano River. The city is located near where North Llano River and South Llano River converge to form the Llano River.
Authorities said 19 people were rescued – 15 by boat and four by helicopter. Kellner said two of the people rescued by air were in a tree with a dog.
Kellner said all those rescued were checked out by medical emergency personnel, but it was unclear if any required hospitalization.
Authorities said that right after the South Llano RV Park was overtaken with water, officials were able to rescue about 40 people by throwing them life jackets or ropes, but then the water got too high and they needed helicopters and boats for the rescues.
Kellner said one woman rode about 18 miles (28 kilometers) down the river on debris before being rescued. She only sustained cuts and bruises.
Cantu said state and local agencies were helping with the rescues. Authorities said the city of about 2,500 people had been without electricity earlier, but it was restored.
National Weather Service meteorologist Aaron Woodward said radar estimates show that up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain has fallen in the area since Sunday evening.
“The bulk of the heavy rain fell over a several-hour period and it just lined up perfectly that all that fell into that river canyon and it built up and pushed a giant wall downstream,” Woodward said. “That’s what caused the extreme flash flooding. When you get that quick of a wall to rush down and you get that rapid of a rise in river depths, flash flooding is imminent.”
The river had gone down, but it was expected to rise again later. More rain was expected in the area late Monday night and into the overnight hours.
Cantu said that while they know the four are missing from the RV park, there’s a possibility that other campers they don’t know about are missing. Cantu said the RV park is adjacent to a city park where people can stay overnight but it’s not regulated so he doesn’t know how many people might have been there.
“The problem with the RV park, as far as getting accounting of people and getting information, the main office was also swept away,” he said. “So whatever records they had there are not accessible.”
Jamie McDonald captured one of the helicopter rescues on camera outside his hotel. McDonald, also known as “Adventureman,” is an author and motivational speaker and was visiting the city as he runs across America to raise money for children’s hospitals.
McDonald said he heard people shouting and screaming and opened the hotel room door. He found people on the balcony and saw a man down in the water holding onto a tree.
“There was one guy just clinging on to dear life,” he said in an interview Monday, describing the scene as “heartbreaking.” At one point, McDonald said the man became separated from a tree and it was uncertain whether he would make it out OK because the current was so strong.
McDonald’s footage shows onlookers worrying from afar.
“Get a hold of something,” one person says.
“God help him please,” another says.
Later, the man was hoisted up from the water by helicopter and safely lowered down to a parking lot, McDonald said. He said the man, who was naked, appeared bruised and battered.
“I can’t believe they actually rescued him,” McDonald says on the video. “That was incredible, just amazing support.”