Up to a foot of rain in Central Texas prompts flooding, rescues

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HOUSTON — Flooding across Central Texas on Thursday morning inundated roads and buildings, stranding residents and prompting dramatic rescues after storms dropped up to a foot of rain in places overnight.

Since midnight, emergency crews had responded to 81 flood-related incidents in Travis County, which surrounds Austin. Those included 32 water rescues and 46 flood assistance and barricade calls, Austin fire officials said.

Hundreds of homes in Travis County have been affected by floodwater, and several shelters have been opened for those displaced, Austin fire officials said.

"Those numbers are on the low side because we're doing so much in so many areas that isn't being reported," Austin Fire Battalion Chief Thayer Smith said.

Smith told the Los Angeles Times that several of those who were rescued were taken to a hospital to be checked, but no serious injuries or deaths have been reported.

One of the most dramatic rescues Thursday morning involved a woman in labor.

The woman was stranded in "a notorious flood area," Smith said, cut off by two low-water crossings. Rescue crews were able to reach and rescue her by boat, Smith said.

Some Austin-area schools canceled classes, while others were delayed. A local school bus was among the vehicles temporarily stranded by flooded streets.

Elsewhere in Austin, First Independent Baptist Church was partially submerged by flooding.

"I'm standing in front of that at the moment -- it's gone down about 3 feet, but it was definitely about half way up the building," Smith said, adding that flood waters also affected "many, many houses in this area -- basically everything along Onion Creek east of I-35 all the way to the Colorado River. All those neighborhoods are underwater."

Smith said the creek had reached its 100-year flood plain, a level not seen since 1991.

"We're chasing that rising water into other neighborhoods," he said, adding that "the biggest issue was a lot of these areas in town near the creek, the rain gauges were at 9 inches, so we had a very concentrated rain in this area."

The heaviest rain began at 9 p.m. CDT on Wednesday and continued overnight, with some of the hardest downpours reported near southern Travis County and Hays County.

In downtown Austin, rainfall totals reached 4 to 5 inches, the National Weather Service reported.

A spokeswoman for Austin Energy said 5,500 customers were still without power at of about 11 a.m. CDT, down from a peak of 8,500 customers during the storm, and 17 crews were out trying to restore power, although floodwaters hindered their work.

"We can't restore power until the water recedes. The crews are doing what they can at the moment," Austin Energy spokeswoman Leslie Sopko told The Times.

By late morning, Smith said rainstorms had shifted out of Austin and to the east.

"I'm starting to see the sun come out -- we're done with the rain," he said.

Rains were already pounding Houston early Thursday, where a flash flood watch was issued through 4 p.m. CDT.