Flood death toll climbs to four

Posted: 6:25 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, 2015  by Nicole Cobler and Katie Urbaszewski

The death toll from last week’s floods in Central Texas climbed to four as Comal County officials announced Monday they had recovered the body of a man who had been swept into a creek. Three people died in Travis County.

by Rodolfo Gonzalez
A tractor drives Monday past a giant hole at Johnson’s Backyard Garden caused by last week’s flooding near Garfield. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez

“We’ve lost lives in the flood,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “That’s on everybody’s mind at this point. Now we enter the recovery phase, where we’re going to get boots on the ground. We’ll figure out what recovery looks like, how much damage there is, what we can do to recover and what we can do to prevent another flood that endangers so many people’s lives and property.”

In total, 212 properties in Austin were determined to be either “dangerous” or “substandard” after the floods, and the Austin Code Department has not yet finished assessing properties, city officials said.

Authorities in Travis, Hays, Bastrop and Comal counties took the first step in seeking state and federal help by declaring the counties disaster areas. Eckhardt said she would prefer to extend the disaster declaration that Travis County Commissioners issued in 2013 for the Halloween floods that year as a way to receive aid more quickly this year, though she added she wasn’t sure if that would be possible.

It wasn’t until February that Travis County received money to buy out homes that were wrecked in the 2013 Halloween flooding.

Damage in Garfield

On Monday morning, residents in Garfield, 20 miles southeast of Austin, were trying to salvage what was left of their belongings after flooding there.

Jan Hinton, 67, who has lived in her home with her husband since 1981, said she left her house briefly on Friday to snap photos of the floodwater nearby and then was stranded when Texas 71 closed in both directions. When she was finally able to return, her home was destroyed.

“You don’t think water can be that strong, but it is,” Hinton said.

She will stay in a camper with her husband until they find out how much their insurance will cover or if they will get federal relief.

“I’m too old to be starting over,” Hinton said, adding, “I think everything happens for a reason.”

Just down the road, the rain flooded rows of crops at Johnson’s Backyard Garden. The top of a greenhouse blew off, parts of the farm’s irrigation system were swept under a nearby bridge and the water left a 20-foot-deep hole in the middle of a field.

The farm’s owner, Brenton Johnson, said he estimates the damage will total at least $50,000.

Fennel, dill and okra are among the damaged crops, but Johnson said the farm will still be able to sell the vegetables.

“Nothing was totally damaged,” Johnson said. “It’s just a big setback for us.”

Victims identified

At least two of those who lost their lives in the floods were with others who were rescued, officials said, highlighting a chaotic scene for victims and first responders.

All three Travis County victims were found after the waters receded, said Roger Wade, Travis County sheriff’s spokesman. They were identified Monday as Jorge Aguilar-Torres, 50, of Del Valle; Edward Hernandez Jr., 37, of Del Valle; and Inez Ortiz Garza, 67, of southeastern Travis County. The Comal County victim was identified as David Bruce Giller, 52.

Garza was trying to evacuate her home in the 8300 block of Citation Avenue but was separated from her husband while they were collecting items, her family members said. The water from Dry Creek broke through the wall of the house, and Garza was found dead about a mile from the home, Wade said.

Floodwaters also dragged away her husband, Frank, but he was able to hold on to a neighbor’s tree, family members said. The neighbor, Margaret Arriaga, helped bring him closer to her house, where the current wasn’t as strong. Garza waited there until an emergency crew rescued him.

Hernandez was washed away after two others with him were rescued from a vehicle near the intersection of Texas 130 and FM 812, Wade said. Hernandez was found dead about 1 mile from the vehicle.

Aguilar-Torres was last seen in Travis County on his vehicle in high water on RM 1625 near Coulver Road, Wade said. Witnesses said someone tried to save him but was unsuccessful. He was found dead a short distance from the vehicle.

In Comal County, Giller was found in Rebecca Creek on Sunday, said Comal County officials, who had been searching for him since his vehicle was found unoccupied Friday. Giller was the only known person to be missing in Comal County from Friday’s flash flooding.

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