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Man swept to his death near Alvarado as rescuers tried to save him

A man drowned early Wednesday afternoon as he was swept away from firefighters trying to rescue him near a flood-swollen creek north of Alvarado in Johnson County, Cleburne's fire chief said.

The man, whose name was not immediately available, had been communicating with rescuers before the powerful current overwhelmed him near a low-water crossing on County Road 607, Chief Clint Ishmael said.

The creek was swollen with torrential rains wrought by Tropical Storm Hermine, which by 4 p.m. had dumped a record 5.23 inches of rain at DFW Airport, was also blamed for one drowning death in the Killeen area, according to the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

In Johnson County, Cleburne firefighters were helping counterparts in Alvarado rescue the man who drowned, Ishmael said. The man had been stranded in a Ford pickup truck, he added.

"People think they can drive through high water in a pickup, but that's not always the case," Ishmael said. "They have a false sense of security."

The man was found about 50 yards downstream, Ishmael said.

Meanwhile, National Weather Service meteorologists spotted tornadoes on the ground near Seagoville, south of Dallas, and nearby, about five miles southwest of Ferris.

KRLD and KTVT-Channel 11's Chopper 11 said the latter appeared to touch down near Palmer, south of Ferris and Dallas, and that debris could be seen strewn in its wake. Another funnel was detected five miles south of Hebron in Denton County.

KTVT-Channel 11 showed video footage of damage in Ferris and in West Dallas.

Tornado warnings were issued at different times during the day in Dallas, Denton, Collin, Ellis, Kaufman and Rockwall counties.

A tornado watch remains in effect for northeastern Texas until 1 a.m.

Runoff from the storm spawned by Hermine was creating numerous traffic problems before the afternoon rush hour.

For example, southbound Texas 360 at Holland Road in Mansfield is underwater, city spokesperson Belinda Willis said. Grand Prairie police are holding traffic at Texas 360 and Debbie Lane on the southbound side, she said. The intersection is near a branch of Walnut Creek, Willis said.

Also, 19,000 power outages, most of them in Dallas, were challenging repair crews for Oncor Electric Delivery.

"I know that sounds high, but it has been higher," said Catherine Cuellar, Oncor spokeswoman. "It got up to about 25,000 at lunchtime."

A flash flood warning expired at 2 p.m. for Tarrant and Johnson Counties, said Mark Fox of the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth.

He noted, however, that although the rain had let up and clouds were receding, the danger of rising water had not yet passed.

An urban and small stream flood advisory was still in effect until 8 p.m. as storm runoff continued inundate area watersheds, Fox said.

"Creeks, streams, rivers, whatever, will continue to rise," he said.

More rain was also possible, but probably not at the intensity seen overnight and Wednesday morning, Fox said.

The flash flood warning, however, was extended in Collin, Denton, Kaufman and Grayson counties, Fox said.

Emergency crews across North Texas have been busy Wednesday rescuing people from cars, homes and apartment complexes as high water produced by tropical depression Hermine's heavy rains has inundated the area.

Fort Worth Firefighters responded to 50 high-water calls between 6 a.m. and noon, said Engineer Tim Hardeman, fire department spokesman. Of those calls, Hardeman said, 14 were requests for high water rescues.

He explained, however, that in many of those calls, people reached safety without help from firefighters, but the department's dive team was called out seven times Wednesday morning.

Back in Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon issued a disaster declaration Wednesday morning because of numerous high water rescues, road closures and other problems associated with the rain.

The hardest hit area is eastern Johnson County near Alvarado, he said.

He described how one two-story home had water past the first floor.

“We’ve exhausted our supply of high water barricades,and have requested assistance from the state ... It’s been a touch-and-go situation all morning,” Harmon said.

Five people were swept in to high water along English Trail but were rescued. The sheriff’s department also reported one person was trapped in a house on Pecan Circle awaiting rescue.

Thirty roads were closed throughout the county because of high water.

Meanwhile, Harmon said the senior citizens center and First Baptist Church in Alvarado are being used as emergency shelters. He does not know if anyone is in the shelters.

At noon Wednesday, Arlington firefighters were evacuating residents of the Willow Apartments on Pioneer Parkway because high water had filled the complex's grounds.

Ladder trucks were used to rescue 30 people and several dogs from upper-level units at the complex, said Arlington Battalion Chief Alan Kassen.

Included were Martha Culley, her husband and their 9-month-old baby. She said had seen flooding in the area before, but she was surprised to watch the water reach the doorknobs on the ground level units.

Electric power was cut, which also worried her.

"I started getting concerned because it was warm," Culley said. "I didn't know how I was going to remain in this hot condo with the baby."

Firefighters also assisted another 50 people walk across the flooded parking lot after the water level decreased, Kassen said.

They also used jet skis to rescue 10 people from the Woodland Park Estates north of Arkansas Lane and west of Park Spring Road on the west side of Arlington.

Arlington councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon said she’s never seen such significant flooding during the 33 years she has lived in the nearby Shady Valley neighborhood in west Arlington. At least one home in the neighborhood, off Pioneer Parkway near Rush Creek, had 4 feet of water in it, Wilemon said.

“I’m devastated. This is the most water I’ve ever seen,” said Wilemon, who was out in the neighborhood Wednesday checking on residents.

Also in southwest Arlington, flooding along Key Branch and Rush Creek forced the closing of roads and bridges around Martin High School at mid-morning.

Pleasant Ridge Road was closed in front of the school where a bridge across rain-choked Key Branch became covered with debris from the fast-rushing water.

Motorists along Mayfield Road behind Martin’s campus could not turn south onto Woodside/Kelly Elliott Road, which borders the campus to the east. Water covered the Woodside roadway where Key Branch engulfed a small park across the street from the school.

At about 11 a.m. emergency personnel in Arlington were alerted to high water approaching Grace Preparatory Academy in the 2700 block of Interstate 20 at Park Springs.

More than 300 people, including staff and children, were taken by bus to Grace Covenant Church at 3402 W. Interstate 20.

The Arlington Parks and Recreation Department closed River Legacy and Village Creek parks, the Tails 'N Trails dog park and the Meadowbrook Recreation Center because of flooding on Wednesday.

Johnson Creek sent about 8 inches of flood water into the Meadowbrook Recreation Center’s gymnasium, which has flooded at least four times in the past 30 years, Parks Assistant Director Bill Gilmore. The building will be closed through Thursday as crews work to clean up the flooding, which is not expected to cause serious damage to the gym or its equipment.

Gilmore said this is the first time the building has flooded in at least a dozen years.

Keller school district officials evacuated Bear Creek Intermediate School at about 9:30 this morning because of rising flood waters along Bear Creek.

Students and staff were transported by school buses to Northwood Church, 1870 Rufe Snow, the district's designated evacuation site.

"Based on the road closures, the current and future weather and past flooding issues in that area, we decided to err on the side of caution and evacuate," said Jeff Baker, district planning and security director. "That water is rising and will continue to rise."

Baker said that dismissal would be chaotic if they allowed parents to pick up at the school because of flooded roads in the area.

This is the first time that Northwood Church has been used to evacuate students, although the church has been the district's emergency location for the past several years, Baker said.

The 840 students at Cross Timbers Middle School in Grapevine-Colleyville district were evacuated to the gym at Grapevine High School at 11:40 am. according to school spokesperson Megan Overman. Water has risen in Cross Timbers’ gym, “and I don’t know yet what that means for tomorrow,” Everman said. The district is asking parents who can, to pick up their Cross Timbers students as soon as possible at Grapevine High School.

In Southlake, two bridges on White Chapel Boulevard remain closed as city engineers try to examine the damage.

At the 3400 block of North White Chapel Boulevard just south of Bob Jones Park, huge chunks of asphalt have separated from the main roadbed, leaving cracks as wide as two feet. Another smaller section fell into the creek and the guard rail is warped.

That road will be closed “indefinitely,” said Lt. Mike Bedrich, community initiatives and professional standards officer. Residents will have to find alternate routes on T.W. King Road or cutting through the Saber parking lot, said Joe Walsh, street and drainage supervisor for the city of Southlake.

Once the flood water recedes, engineers will examine the road and see if a temporary fix can be done to open the road, Walsh said.

“Our main concern is getting it open to the public safely,” he said.

The Big Bear Creek bridge on White Chapel Boulevard where Southlake borders Colleyville will remain closed for 24 hours so engineers can ensure the integrity of the bridge, Bedrich said.

There were no reports of homes flooding and firefighters received no calls for water rescues in Southlake, Bedrich said.

Earlier in the day there were as many as nine complete road closures and five partial closures.

Love Henry Court near Bicentennial Park in Southlake reported as much as 4 feet of water.

In Everman, 24 people were evacuated at about 7 a.m. from nine homes near Christie and Vaden avenues, as well as the 200 block of East Barron Avenue, said Randy Sanders, the city director of emergency services.

Water entered three of the homes and was close to getting into six others, he said.

“In the houses that got water, it was probably about 4 to 5 inches, enough to make a mess of things,” he said. “Around the others, it was getting high enough to make people nervous.”

The evacuees were taken to the community center, where they waited for the water to recede, he said. By 11 a.m., they had returned home. A rain gauge suggested that the city had received 9 inches of rain since Tuesday afternoon, he said.

In east Fort Worth, fire crews went to a well drill site near Precinct Line Road and Trammell Davis Road where 10 people reportedly were trapped on their rig by high water. Fire officials said it was not a life-threatening situation.

Fossil Creek in Haltom City swelled out of its banks early Wednesday and threatened the Skyline Mobile Home Park, which was the scene of a flooding fatality in 2007. However, Joel Thompson, operations chief for the fire department, said no one had to be evacuated, and “everyone just sheltered in place.”

Flash floods closed roads across the Mansfield area and flooded homes along Walnut Creek.

“Twenty homes have water damage along Palm Court and Laurel (Street) where they back up to the linear trail, west of McKnight Park,” said Belinda Willis, city spokesperson.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, Walnut Creek Drive at Katherine Rose Memorial Park, West Broad Street at Lillian Road, Retta Road at the city limits and the 2700 block of FM 917 were closed, Willis said.

Farther south, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reported game wardens have assisted in several high water rescues in Central Texas, particularly in Bell and Williamson counties.

The agency reported that wardens also are assisting in the search for an unknown number of people reported missing near Lake Granger, between Taylor and Granger, where two mobile homes and a house were reportedly were swept away.

About 10 vehicles were stranded in standing water early Wednesday morning on U.S. 287 north of Decatur in Wise County, said Steve Fano, weather service meteorologist.

Fano said reports of flooding were “too many to count” from Bell County in Central Texas and north to Denton and Wise Counties.

MedStar said that as of 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, its crews had responded to 37 traffic-related calls since midnight. The ambulance service said that it responded to 57 traffic-related calls on Tuesday, more than double the daily average for such calls.

A shelter for people evacuated from their homes was opened Wednesday afternoon at Rush Creek Christian Church, 2401 Southwest Green Oaks Blvd, said Lynn Handley , an organization spokeswoman.

The church is a partner of the Red Cross and staff there are trained in shelter management, she said. Red Cross officials were searching for a location in Arlington to open a second shelter.

The Red Cross also is assisting the city of Alvarado with two shelters it opened for flood victims, she said.

In the past 24 hours DFW Airport has received 2.70 inches of rain, according to the weather service, eclipsing the previous record of 1.62 inches recorded in 1976. Since the rain began, DFW Airport had received 5.88 inches of rain as of 11 a.m. Meacham Airport has received 6.04 inches and Alliance has received 4.23 inches.

The storm system could bring the area back to normal rainfall levels. The year's total is now 19.85 inches. Normal rainfall at this point is 23.38 inches.

The rain forecast slips to 50 percent tonight and 40 percent Thursday. The skies should be partly sunny by Friday, but a weak cold front is expected to arrive Saturday and produce isolated thunderstorms. There will be a 20 percent chance of rain through Sunday.

Staff writers Elizabeth Campbell, Sandra Engelland, Mitch Mitchell, Alex Branch, Lance Murray, Nick Sakelaris, Shirley Jinkins, Susan Schrock, A. Lee Graham, Nancy Matocha, Jay Board, Amanda Kowalski and Steve Campbell contributed to this report.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

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