Help's coming, Bush tells weary Texas flood victims Damage may top $1 billion in flooding that killed 29


CUERO, Texas -- With frustration growing among flood victims and damage estimates that could top $1 billion statewide, Gov. George W. Bush reassured residents of this ravaged city yesterday that help is coming.

Twenty-nine people were killed statewide as a result of storms that triggered severe floods in south and central Texas and tornadoes elsewhere. Rains last weekend dumped as much as 24 inches in some areas.

"The money is on the way," Bush told one resident during a stop at Cuero High School with James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We need everything we can get," said Carrie Brown, 69, one of hundreds of people sheltered at the school since the Guadalupe River jumped its banks and tore through town Monday.

In addition to grants and loans to residents, Witt told local officials, federal funds will be available to reimburse the costs of debris removal and infrastructure damage and possibly for the creation of a mobile home park to house flood victims.

He also announced that five Houston-area counties will join the 20 covered by the disaster declaration approved by President Clinton earlier this week.

Democratic state Sen. Ken Armbrister, whose district includes 15 of the counties in the disaster area, predicted that the statewide damage total would more than double the $500 million estimated by state officials Wednesday.

After talking with insurers experienced in disaster claims, Armbrister said, "They're saying, cumulatively, damage in the four river courses could very easily reach $1 billion."

DeWitt County Judge Ben Brause called the visit by Bush and Witt "a double shot in the arm" for disconsolate residents. But it didn't do much for Pat Mercer, 49.

"Talk is not enough. I want action," said Mercer, who complained that erroneous forecasts that flooding would not occur until Wednesday left her just 15 minutes to flee her home ahead of rising waters Monday.

The muddy floodwaters had receded considerably since the Guadalupe River crested at record levels in many areas Tuesday. Pieces of homes, abandoned cars and farm equipment were left behind.

"Twenty-five percent of the city is destroyed," said Cuero Mayor Michael Thamm, who has instituted a dusk-to-dawn curfew for nonresidents in the affected areas.

Pub Date: 10/24/98

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