City Councilman Al Bryant's tone was urgent. His advice to fellow residents of Wharton, Texas, facing the threat of flooding: If you have to leave, "don't wait until the last minute."
Wharton is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Houston on the Colorado River, which was already well above flood stage and was continuing to rise Friday. Water from heavy rains in eastern and central Texas has been swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks.
Wharton is the latest concern in the southwestern state’s battle with floodwater. Texas has already had the wettest month of May on record, and more rain is expected over the weekend. Parts of the state have received more than 20 inches (nearly 51 centimeters) of rain during May. The state’s second largest city, Dallas, got more than 7 inches just on Thursday night.
At least 26 people have died in the flooding, and 13 others are missing.
Houston-area authorities Friday confirmed the death of an 87-year-old man who was swept away during a rescue attempt.
Water from rain-soaked areas as far away as Austin has made the Colorado River a wild and dangerous beast as it races past Wharton.
Early Friday, at least 1,000 of the town’s 9,000 residents had already packed up and gone, leaving the area around the picturesque courthouse square looking deserted.
But Chris Haynes, who lives roughly 330 feet (100 meters) from the water’s edge, told VOA he was in no hurry.
“I moved stuff around, but I am not going to leave until I have to leave," he said. "This is our home, and I am not going to leave it until I have to leave. That is why I am checking the water. I go check on it every couple of hours, and I am watching it.”
Letricia Aime expressed a similar view.
“I don’t think it will get up to us," she said. "It never did before, but if it does, then we’ll leave.”
Wharton Mayor Domingo Montalvo probably would not like to hear that kind of talk.
“The best thing to do is just leave,” he told a local television station.
More rain to come
The Colorado River is expected to overflow its banks in Wharton early Saturday, reaching a crest well above flood stage, which is about 39 feet (11.8 meters).
“The river will continue rising to near 43.4 feet by Saturday afternoon through evening ... then fall below flood stage Sunday afternoon,” the National Weather Service predicted in a flood warning it issued for Wharton. “At 43.0 feet ... major lowland flooding begins as the slab elevations of lowest homes in the west part of Wharton are reached, with the school in southwest Wharton close to being isolated.”
The weather service was also predicting more rain in Wharton on Saturday and Saturday evening.
Some storms "could produce heavy rain,” it said.