A sixth victim was found dead late Saturday following severe flooding in Palestine, Texas, that also killed a woman and four children. In a statement from Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor, the body of 30-year-old Giovani Olivas was discovered around 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
As reported by local TV station WFAA 8 ABC, autopsies on the six bodies are to be conducted and completed on Monday.
Captain James Muniz of the Palestine Police Department said more than seven inches of rain fell on the town in less than an hour on Friday night, causing a local creek to overflow. In the early hours of Saturday morning, police began receiving calls about water reaching the rooftops in the Timber Drive neighborhood. When officers arrived, they found the area completely underwater.
Muniz said the water rose so quickly in the low-lying neighborhood that many residents had little time to evacuate.
“The water came down the hill. The street was full of mud, so the water just came up. With the enormous amount of rain we had, we had people tell us that within minutes, the water was waist deep.”
Many sleeping residents were woken up by the sound of rushing water and they did the only thing they could think of, which was to climb to the top of their house.
Palestine resident Merta White said she heard the water inside her home.
“I was asleep when the storm started, and I noticed a light on in the hallway. The water sounded like a toilet flushing, but then I realized it was in the house under and through the door. I grabbed the pole holding up my porch and started climbing.”
Emergency responders and Palestine city employees arrived with fire trucks and dump trucks to help residents get out of the area. Police also got several reports of a missing family and began an exhaustive search for them in the waist-deep water.
While stranded on the roof of her house and waiting for help, White saw something in the water. Although unsure of what it was at first, she eventually recognized it as a body.
“I thought it was a mailbox, but then I realized what it really was, and I started screaming,” she said after being rescued from the flood.
Another resident, Melody Knowles, thought she saw two bodies nearby in a front yard of a home. Another man also told police he saw the bodies.
During the search, police first found two children dead. Shortly thereafter, the police uncovered the bodies of two other children and an adult female.
Police identified the Texas flood victims as 64-year-old Lenda Asberry and her four great-grandchildren, Devonte Asberry, 8, Venetia Asberry, 9, Jamonka Johnson, 6, and Von Anthony Johnson Jr., 7. The deadly flood waters had carried them down the street, said a police statement.
Neighbor Marion Stevens described the tragic scene to CBS News.
“When we finally got the water to get low enough, so we can wade out about chest deep, we still couldn’t find them. Once the water receded, that’s when we started finding the bodies.”
Mayor Bob Herrington said the Palestine flooding was the worst the city has seen in nearly 60 years and it is too early to determine just how bad the damage is. Officials are still working on damage estimates, which will be made available later in the week. Palestine, Texas, is about 150 miles north of Houston and roughly 18,000 people live there.
At least six to 10 homes in the neighborhood have been severely damaged by the Palestine flooding. Members of the Red Cross are in the area to assist those affected and city authorities are working with local hotels to arrange temporary housing.
[Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images]