Third body from Texas clan found: Death toll from Monday's floods at 6


 
 

Derek KravitzThe Dallas Morning News | | Tuesday, June 26, 2007


GAINESVILLE, Texas A tricycle and several dolls were covered in mud and much of the Arnett-Mollenhour family's personal belongings were spread over a two-mile stretch of Pecan Creek.

Their mobile home -- an unrecognizable mass of twisted metal and wood -- remained lodged against a bridge Tuesday after it was swept away by floodwaters with five family members inside.

The devastating storms that swept across North Texas on Monday claimed six lives, including that of a Haltom City girl, and left hundreds homeless throughout North Texas. Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday declared Cooke, Grayson, Lampasas and Tarrant counties disaster areas.

For one Gainesville family, the news late Tuesday that rescue crews had found the body of 2-year-old Makayla Marie Mollenhour -- in a tree about 2 1/2 miles from where the family's mobile home once stood -- was more than they could bear. The bodies of Makayla's 5-year-old sister, Theresa Lee-Ann Arnett, and grandmother, Billie Merle Mollenhour, 60, had been recovered Monday.

"We're just trying to figure out what to do now," said Donald Ray Goodman, Mrs. Mollenhour's husband.

The girls' mother -- found in a tree by rescue teams -- survived and was taken to a local hospital, where she was treated and released, hospital officials said.

Flash floods, called the area's worst in 150 years and stretching from Gainesville to Sherman, trapped victims in their homes and in cars as water surged 8 feet in some areas before quickly receding.

Cooke County officials said the flood caused at least $27 million in damage -- $18 million to 300 homes and about $9 million to 75 businesses, which was mostly limited to water damage in downtown Gainesville. The floods also damaged 75 percent of the area's agricultural crops, leaving small grains and corn harvests in ruin.

Mr. Perry visited one of the Gainesville emergency shelters Tuesday afternoon.

"This type of flooding is difficult to respect after the fact unless you're traveling around and see the devastation that occurs," Mr. Perry said. "We know that through the middle of this community, a horrific event occurred. There is great detailing of that along Pecan Creek."

About two dozen people remained in a shelter Tuesday. Some 260 people had gone to shelters for help Monday and Tuesday.

A warning for looters

On Tuesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety warned that it would take action against anyone caught looting in flooded areas.

"This is a public disaster. This is about taking care of your neighbor. This is about taking care of each other," said Trooper Rebecca Uresti, a spokeswoman for the DPS. "When people loot, hopefully we can catch them in the act.

"But if they decide to loot, they're just damaging their own community. So that's what the citizens need to know -- that if they do it, they're only hurting themselves, because the bottom line is, it's going to be your neighbor that gets hurt."

Officials warned residents to be careful when returning to homes in the town's low-lying areas that were affected.

Neighbors returning to the Pecan Grove Mobile Home Park on Tuesday described a tragic scene: The mother of the two young girls, 23-year-old Lisa Arnett, screaming for help as floodwaters pushed the family's trailer into nearby Pecan Creek.

Marcie Guess, a neighbor who waited in a tree to be rescued, said Tuesday that she could only watch helplessly.

"I see it kind of floating, and then all of a sudden it was swept away on down the creek sideways," Ms. Guess said. "They were hanging out the window, and they were hollering, 'Help us, help us, please help us.' There wasn't anything I could do."

Family members who congregated Tuesday at what was left of the Arnett family's mobile home described the two Arnett girls as energetic and full of life.

"Theresa was only 5, but she was so talkative," said Amber Johnson, a cousin. "They were just babies. It's so tragic."

Services for the two girls and Mrs. Mollenhour have been scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Fair Avenue Baptist Church in Gainesville.

Rescue workers deemed a report of a woman and a 5-year-old girl being swept away in floodwaters north of town as false and called off that search, Ms. Uresti said Tuesday. Two others who had been reported missing were located in area shelters, said Gainesville Mayor Glenn Loch.

Three National Guard helicopters were called in to help ground-based search and rescue teams who were combing through parts of Pecan Creek on foot Tuesday. And more than three dozen Guardsmen were deployed to Cooke and Tarrant counties. Search teams and canine units scoured the area north of Lake Ray Roberts and along Pecan Creek, which cuts through the middle of Gainesville.

'A massive effort'

Elsewhere, at least 30 homes in Lake Kiowa, Lindsay and Pioneer Valley were affected by the flooding, said Cooke County Judge Bill Freeman.

"It'll just be a massive effort to rehab and rebuild," Mr. Freeman said. "The creek runs north to south and the flooding basically cut the city into two. But Gainesville is very resilient, and we will rebuild and get our life back together."

Large sections of the city both north and south of downtown were cleaning up Tuesday. Along some of the streets in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, residents were throwing out water-drenched carpets, furniture and other items.

Officials likened Monday's flood to a storm system in October 1981 -- remnants of Hurricane Norma -- that left one dead in Gainesville and hundreds homeless.

"Over the past many years, we've had some devastating flooding here in our town," Mr. Loch said. "But this year, I was telling the governor a moment ago, this is a horrific flood."

A Denison woman died on her way to work, her Jeep overwhelmed by the water. And the body of a Sherman man was discovered in his pickup as waters receded.

The force of the flooding dragged a school bus downstream in Sherman.

Gainesville resident Joe Crisp toured what was left of his modest one-bedroom home Tuesday. A toolshed that sat behind his home now sits on its roof near the front of the house. Inside, an inch of mud coats the floor. Only the top foot of the home was left untouched by water.

"You know you live in a floodplain, so you know it could happen to you, but I never thought it would get us," Mr. Crisp said Tuesday as he looked at a gaping hole in his kitchen wall. "It caught us."




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