Learning From Amelia: A First-Hand Account From the Hill Country

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Tony Maples Photography


One reporter’s recollection of the floodwaters from a storm’s aftermath will remind us all the true damage that Mother Nature can call down on the earth from what seems like a diminishing tropical tirade.

Often claiming more lives than the storm itself, the flooding that took place following Tropical Storm Amelia is a prime example. Which is why the days, weeks, and months following Hurricane Harvey will tell the true tale of the Texas damage toll. Making landfall at Corpus Christi, Tropical Storm Amelia touched Texas in August of 1978. Listed as a weak storm at best, it caused minor coastal damage according to Robert Rivard of the Rivard Report. But as he points out, he was a young reporter dispatched to South Padre Island, where Amelia seemed to only whisk by in comparison to the damage it would later do as it made its way inland and stalled over the Texas Hill Country.

Learning from Amelia: First-Hand Account from the Texas Hill Country

Photo: Public Domain Pictures

In Bandera alone, 14 inches of rain fell overnight. Kerrville topped that at 22 inches over a 48-hour window. Reporters and photographers were dispatched to the area to cover the onslaught of torrential rains that swelled the Guadalupe River beyond capacity. Although they struggled against rising floodwaters, area law enforcement heroically responded to reports of drowning victims, thousands left homeless, in need of shelter, missing persons being swept away, and emergency medical attention that was sorely needed. There were even reports of survivors being rescued following a harrowing night clinging to tree tops just above the raging flood waters.

Learning from Amelia: First-Hand Account from the Texas Hill Country

Photo: Public Domain Pictures

Although the National Weather Service had issued flood warnings, no one in the Hill Country was prepared for such a monumental disaster. The towns of Comfort, Medina, Ingram, and the two formerly mentioned (Bandera and Kerrville) were left ravaged by the storm. And as Rivard further reports, Tropical Storm Amelia left Kerrville looking like a war zone following the arrival of the helicopters, military personnel and vehicles, and the small tent city that materialized in her wake.

Learning from Amelia: First-Hand Account from the Texas Hill Country

Photo: Flickr/pingnews.com

Calling it one of the worst floods in Texas history, Governor Dolph Briscoe petitioned President Jimmy Carter’s administration for federal assistance. The President promptly declared a national disaster through six Hill Country counties. Joining local law enforcement, the Texas National Guard as well as U.S. army units assisted in search and rescue efforts, covering hundreds of square miles. And Rivard’s report, in particular, makes reference to the hundreds of kids who were left trapped in summer camps here in the Hill Country (near Hunt) who were carried to safety by police, firemen, and soldiers braving flood waters and river currents to bring them safely to makeshift shelters.

Learning from Amelia: First-Hand Account from the Texas Hill Country

Photo: Wikimedia

The aftermath of that storm resulted in 33 dead and over $110 million in damages, which by today’s standards, Rivard calculates at approximately $1 billion or more, considering present-day Hill Country development. From his first-hand account of what happened back then, he cautioned that although the current reports of Hurricane Harvey making landfall and decimating places like Rockport are true Texas losses, the ultimate test was the intensity of the inland rainfall that results from the storm, and the subsequent rising flood waters. Flooding in and around the city of Houston has claimed the lives many and has caused substantial property damage which, at present, can’t even begin to be estimated. Only after these flood waters recede and safety is assured for all affected, will the true toll of Hurricane Harvey be calculated.


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