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Texas keeping worried eye on swollen rivers

HOUSTON -- Officials are closely monitoring the levels of rivers in Texas engorged by the deluge of last weekend.

The Colorado River in Wharton, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, and the Brazos and San Jacinto Rivers, also near Houston, are the focus of attention for officials as floodwaters from North and Central Texas move downstream toward the Gulf of Mexico.

This, as the death toll continues to rise as search teams dig through debris piles along rivers that raged through Central Texas and the Houston area.

Rescuers pluck police officer from Texas floodwaters

Authorities say a man drowned after his truck was swept into a culvert near Dallas, raising the death toll from recent storms in Texas and Oklahoma to 25 people. Texas has 14 missing people, according to a CBS News count.

CBS affiliate KHOU reports that the Houston area will see a continuing chance for scattered showers Friday, but it's this weekend when the real chance for rain returns. The forecast calls for a 60-percent chance of rain, starting on Saturday morning. This could lead to more flash flooding.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said troopers rescued a man who was swept off a bridge by floodwaters, then jailed him on a public intoxication complaint. Troopers Kevin Antwine and Nathan Mullins put a boat in the water and found the man clinging to a tree about 200 yards south of Highway 70.

Meanwhile, heavy rains hit the Dallas area Thursday night and early Friday caused widespread road flooding. Emergency responders rescued dozens overnight as severe flash flooding battered the area, reports CBS News correspondent Don Dahler.

The National Weather Service says the city is experiencing its wettest May on record, with almost 14 inches of rain and counting.

The forecast in the Dallas area calls for a chance of thunderstorms Friday night and Saturday.

The flood threat appeared to have eased along the Brazos River in North Texas, where it fell below flood stage Thursday night at Horseshoe Bend in Parker County.

But officials would continue to watch for any effects from Thursday night rains in the vicinity of Possum Kingdom Lake, said Parker County Emergency Management spokesman Joel Kertok.

The river level at Horseshoe Bend had fallen below the 21-foot flood stage to 20.9 feet Thursday night after the Brazos River Authority closed the floodgates on the Possum Kingdom dam upstream, Kertok said. The river crested at 23.6 feet about noon Thursday, almost 3 feet above flood stage, and Kertok said floodwaters lapped at the foundations of 11 homes but rose no further before beginning to recede.

But the worst is yet to come downstream on the Brazos. At Richmond, near Houston, where flood stage is 48 feet, the National Weather Service expected the river to top flood stage Friday morning and rise to 50 feet by late Friday night or Saturday. That would cause major flooding in Simonton, upstream from Richmond, and Thompsons downstream. Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls says residents of some parts of Simonton have been asked to leave.

The Colorado River at Wharton, where voluntary evacuations were underway in the city's low-lying west side, was at 39.5 feet Thursday night, a half-foot over flood stage. Forecasters say it could crest at 44 to 45 feet Saturday morning, causing major flooding.

Wharton Mayor Domingo Montalvo is stressing that people on that west side should leave as soon as possible, reports CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV. "That's going to save a lot on our manpower as far as our first responders," Montalvo said. "Everyone I've talked to has said they are not staying."

The West Fork of the San Jacinto River was at 32 feet Thursday night, 8 feet above flood stage and was expected to remain in major flood for several days.

This week's record rainfall in Texas eased the state's drought and swelled rivers and lakes to the point that they may not return to normal levels until July, scientists said Thursday.

Just weeks ago, much of the state was parched with varying levels of drought. But the same drenching rainfall that paralyzed parts of Houston and swept away a vacation home with eight people inside also offered relief from a long dry spell.

Many cities were still in danger of flooding as heavy rain from earlier in the week poured downstream, pushing rivers over their banks.

"There's so much water in Texas and Oklahoma that it's going to take quite a while for those rivers to recede," said Mark Wiley, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fort Worth, Texas.

If normal amounts of precipitation return, rivers will probably drop to average levels by the Fourth of July, he said.

"Six months ago, we were dying for this stuff," he said. "And now we're saying, 'Please, please stop."'

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for much of Arkansas following heavy rainfall across the state. Forecasters say there will be several rounds of rainfall in Arkansas this weekend as a slow-moving storm system moves across the southern plains.


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