HORSESHOE BEND, TEXAS — The Brazos River that snakes around this hamlet near the heart of Texas can be a source of pride and pain.
“Most of the time, it’s really nice out here,” resident Lori Grantham said Wednesday.
This week, however, the unincorporated community an hour west of Fort Worth is reminded that it is at the mercy of the river.
On Saturday, 10-year-old Hunter Foster slipped into the rain-swollen waterway while fishing with some friends. His body was recovered Tuesday 20 miles downstream.
“The river has been getting wider and wider,” said Rick Rhodes, who lives a few doors down from the boy’s family. “That’s why it took so long to find him. We’ve had new water every day.”
Hunter, the youngest of his parents’ three boys, is one of at least a half-dozen people to die in Texas flooding over the past week. Many of the deaths have occurred along the Brazos River, the eleventh largest U.S. river which winds 840 miles through the center of the Lone Star State.
The historic waterway surged to its highest level in more than a century southwest of Houston on Wednesday. A chance of thunderstorms through Saturday has prompted forecasters to issue flash flood watches for large parts of the state, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster Wednesday in 31 flood-affected counties.
With the Brazos already at critical stages, authorities were keeping a close eye on flood stages. One emergency management worker near Dallas-Fort Worth tweeted video of a hay bale being spent down the the river.
The Brazos as high as I have seen it. It’s floating 1000lb haybales down river! pic.twitter.com/h8TtTKvrCH
— Johnson County EM (@jocotx_em) June 1, 2016
At flood-prone Horseshoe Bend, the river had risen late Wednesday to over 26 feet — more than five feet above flood stage. Forecasters predict the river to crest near 29 feet on Thursday. Major flooding occurs at 27 feet.
The community sits in a precarious spot between two major lakes that use dams to manage flooding of the reservoirs. And with more rain on the way, officials said they might have to release water from nearby Possum Kingdom Lake into the Brazos.
“The next 48 hours is going to be a critical time period,” said Don Schauer, a battalion chief with the Parker County fire department.
Dozens of the community’s 600 homes are already partially flooded. Tim and Elizabeth Jenkins woke up Wednesday morning surrounded by water and required rescue by emergency workers, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
“This is the worst I’ve seen,” Elizabeth Jenkins told the newspaper. “Our house is on stilts but it’s within four feet of the front door. We’ve lost our car and everything that was outside. It’s all been washed away.”
John Welch, 51, spent the day loading valuables onto a truck and trailer. He said he and his wife hope to be out before the river crests. Still, many residents already under water were staying put.
“Some people refuse to leave,” said Grantham, referring to one neighbor hunkered down on the second floor of his home. “He’s got a lot of antiques in his house. It’s kind of dangerous, but you can’t blame him. You can’t trust the thieves.”
Authorities weren’t ordering evacuations, but police did set up a roadblock early Wednesday and were allowing only Horseshoe Bend residents into the community.
The move disrupted plans at the First Baptist Church of Horseshoe Bend, who intended on hosting a countywide candlelight service for Hunter Foster’s family. Rick and Coeta Rhodes, volunteers at the church, were still preparing candles Wednesday afternoon for any neighbors who could join despite the ongoing flooding threat. An online fund has been started to help with Hunter’s funeral costs.
“We’re just praying for comfort,” she said. “You always feel a loss.”
The Rhodes said Hunter announced his Christian faith at a Wednesday night youth service two weeks ago.
“He thought he would be baptized on Sunday,” Rick Rhodes said.