By Kathi Bliss
Aftermath of what has been dubbed “the Halloween Flood” continues to grip Caldwell County, as some residents struggle to restart their lives and others come to the harsh realization that their lives will never be the same.
On Monday, search and dive crews were able to recover from Brushy Creek a truck that was washed into the rushing waters on Friday night. The man driving the truck, identified as Willie Brite, 43, was able to escape the flooding vehicle, and confirmed to authorities that he had driven around a barricade on Polonia Road before his truck was inundated.
He did not know, when he reported the incident, whether his companion, identified as Cynthia McKee, was able to escape.
As of Monday evening, McKee had not been heard from and had not been to her job since the time of the incident. Although search crews presumed they were involved in a recovery, rather than a rescue mission, there was no sign of a body when the truck was recovered.
Then, on Tuesday, authorities confirmed that a female body had been recovered, downstream from the Polonia Road crossing where Brite said he lost control of his vehicle. Although they were unable to make a positive identification at the time the body was located, authorities suggested there was no reason not to believe that McKee’s body had been recovered. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) teams were still working at press time to make an identification, and continue to investigate the incident.
If the recovered corpse does turn out to be McKee, there was no word at press time as to whether Brite would face criminal charges in connection with her presumed death.
In other Halloween Flood news, Caldwell County Volunteer Coordinator Martin Ritchey offered an extensive presentation to the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday morning regarding the flooding, and the aftermath of destruction it left in its wake.
According to Ritchey, the National Weather Service started issuing warnings as early as Oct. 28 that a flooding event was possible in connection with the eastbound front that hovered over Central Texas on Halloween, dumping up to 10 inches of rain in some areas of Caldwell County, and eventually claiming as many as seven lives, including two in Caldwell County.
The Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management went on a heightened alert on Oct. 30, he said, and started making preparations for the possibility of a flooding event – but still, it was unclear how treacherous the flooding would be.
By 1:03 a.m. on Oct. 31, Ritchey said, “the wheels started to come off,” as upstream floodwaters started to surge through Caldwell County’s riverbeds and creeks, inundating roads and bridges, cutting off access to neighborhoods and destroying dozens of homes, particularly in the area of Pecan Park in Martindale, where many residents lived in recreational vehicles as their permanent homes.
Starting in the early morning hours of Oct. 31, swift-water rescue teams from Luling, the Chisholm Trail Fire-Rescue and the McMahan Volunteer Fire Department had been activated, and engaged in dozens of swift-water rescues throughout the county, including the evacuation of the Pecan Park area.
Although County Judge Tom Bonn was able to declare a State of Emergency, which allowed the county to enlist the help of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), to rebuild a road to connect the Dove Hill area in northern Caldwell County to the rest of the world, Ritchey said it was unlikely that the Federal Office of Emergency Management (FEMA) would offer assistance in the flood recovery.
There are thresholds, Ritchey said, that trigger Federal assistance. Though Caldwell County, with more than $1.2 million in damage to homes and infrastructure, the state on the whole did not meet the damage threshold, and is unlikely to. In fact, in the five-county area, only Hays, Caldwell and Travis County declared states of emergency.