Rescue personnel search the floodwaters along Brays Bayou in southwest Houston
By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Hundreds of people fled areas near Texas rivers that overflowed their banks on Thursday as the state reeled from severe storms this week that killed at least 16 people, flooded cities and set a record for the wettest month.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch on Thursday stretching from south of San Antonio to Dallas, through Oklahoma, where severe weather this week killed an additional six people, and into Kansas. Thunderstorms pelted large parts of the affected region on Thursday.
The city of Wharton, about 60 miles (100 km) southwest of Houston, issued a voluntary evacuation notice for about 300 homes along the Colorado River, where water began spilling over the banks on Thursday afternoon and was expected to rise through Friday.
The Brazos River has flooded about 30 miles (50 km) west of Fort Worth and is expected to crest on Thursday evening. Hundreds left their homes on Wednesday as the waterway began breaching its banks, Parker County officials said.
State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said on Thursday the average rainfall across the state was 7.54 inches (19 cm) in May, breaking the record of 6.66 inches (17 cm) set in June 2004, according to records that date to 1895.
"It has been ridiculous," Nielsen-Gammon said.
The body of a boy was recovered on Wednesday near the central city of San Marcos, Hays County officials said. The boy, who has not been identified, was thought to have been swept away in Blanco River floods that ripped houses off their foundations, county officials said.
There were eight people missing in the county after the flooding, which started on Monday.
The new storms could hinder rescue workers who have been searching for days for those washed away in floods along the Blanco River.
"We are not expecting another surge of the river but it is going to shift debris piles," Kharley Smith, the county's emergency management coordinator, told a news conference.
President Barack Obama has pledged federal support and said the U.S. government had been working with local officials.
"They appear to have the assets they need at this stage to respond, but there’s going to be a lot of rebuilding," Obama said in Miami on Thursday during a tour of the National Hurricane Center.
There was no damage estimate available for Texas, which has a $1.4 trillion-a-year economy and is the country's leading domestic source of energy.
(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio and Roberta Rampton in Miami; Editing by Eric Walsh and Peter Cooney)