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Drenching storms easing as Texas takes stock of biggest deluge since deadly May flooding

October 26, 2015   by Paul J. Weber - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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AUSTIN, Texas – Relentless showers soaking Texas began finally clearing Sunday as dangerous flood warnings expired and the remnants of Hurricane Patricia continued dissolving into a steady but manageable drizzle.

More than one foot of rain has drenched parts of Texas since Friday. Photo: @TorontoStar

More than a foot (30 centimetres) of rain has drenched parts of Texas since Friday, shutting down busy highways and derailing a train. Authorities said one man is missing after being swept away by floodwaters near San Antonio, but that no deaths or major destruction have been confirmed in the biggest deluge in Texas since torrential spring rains washed away homes and killed dozens.

Patricia and a separate storm system dumped roughly nine inches (22.5 centimetres) of rain around downtown Houston, but forecasters expected the last band of showers to begin leaving Sunday afternoon. Near Austin, the soaking helped firefighters contain the last of a long-simmering wildfire that had burned 7 square miles (18 square kilometres) and destroyed nearly 70 homes.

Parched forestland from a hot and dry summer fueled the blaze, but meteorologists say that long stretch of sweltering weather also helped avoid a repeat of devastating floods that walloped Texas in late May.

“We had much drier grounds that could handle more of the rainfall and soak it in,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Scott Overpeck said. “We had drought conditions we were dealing with.”

Patricia was the most powerful hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere and made landfall Friday along Mexico’s Pacific Coast as a Category 5 storm. It quickly lost power as it moved inland and appeared to have caused remarkably little damage.

Overnight rains revealed flooded bayous around Houston by Sunday morning but closed roadways began reopening. In Austin, a Formula One championship that attracts racing fans from across the globe was set to do both qualifying laps and the race Sunday after getting washed out most of the weekend.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry had issued a voluntary evacuation Saturday for the Bolivar Peninsula, just northeast of Galveston Island, after forecasters predicted the area would get up to a foot (30 centimetres) of rain and tides 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 metres) high. But county spokeswoman Brittany Rainville said officials did not expect many of the 4,000 people there to evacuate their homes.

“People just know not to get out and drive anywhere,” said Bryan Brawner, who owns a charter company on the peninsula that takes people fishing in the Galveston Bay.

On Saturday, a Union Pacific freight train derailed before dawn Saturday near Corsicana, about 50 miles (80 kilometres) south of Dallas, because a creek overflowed and washed away the tracks, said Jeff DeGraff, a railroad spokesman. The two crew members swam to safety and nobody was hurt, he said.

One locomotive and several rail cars loaded with gravel went into the water and were partly submerged, DeGraff said.

In San Antonio, a man walking his dog before dawn Saturday was swept into a flooded drainage ditch and disappeared, fire officials said. The dog is safe.

Associated Press writer Diana Heidgerd and Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.