By CHERIL VERNON
Heavy rains across Anderson County Wednesday and early Thursday led to flooded roads, road closures and traffic issues, with rainfall in the area totaling more than eight inches.
“Palestine got 8.3 inches of rain — one of the highest in our region except for Teague in Freestone County which had 11 inches of rain and several high water rescues,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Matt Bishop told the Herald-Press. “Long Lake got 6.93 and Frankston had 7.18 inches of rain. So there was anywhere from 6 to 8 inches all across Anderson County.”
Early Thursday morning, both the city and county sent out separate Code Red alerts to warn residents about flood warnings, as the City of Palestine police, Anderson County sheriff's department, Palestine Fire Department and volunteer fire departments responded to weather-related calls. As daylight approached Thursday, Anderson County commissioners, their staff and constables also manned the roads.
“For the most part, the impassible roads were FMs (farm to market), state highways and county roads,” City of Palestine Emergency Management Coordinator Shelby Wells said. “In the city we had dangerous situations due to water on the roadways that are prone to high water, and we definitely had high water.”
Wells opened up the Emergency Operations Center at 10:46 p.m., leaving at 6:20 a.m. when Anderson County Emergency Management Coordinator Tammy Lightfoot took over.
“I stayed in contact with the National Weather Service the whole time,” Wells said.
As of Thursday afternoon, some of the roads that were still closed included CR 2202 on Salt Works Road, CR 2715 and CR 2301.
“Salt Works Road may take several days to go down,” Lightfoot said.
CR 312 in Frankston will be closed to through traffic until next week due to the road washing out.
“We had a house that flooded on CR 2301 off of (U.S.) 287 North. Lake Creek got out of the banks. She had six inches of water running through her house, but she got out of there safely,” Lightfoot said.
Roads that were flooded Thursday morning included FM 315 in places, U.S. 79 south from Westwood to FM 645, FM 645 to FM 320, parts of FM 320, CR 2054, FM 321 to CR 2706, parts of FM 321, CR 2223 Hills of Spring Creek Road, Spur 324 (closed to the bridge), CR 2401, CR 2504, CR 2303 (culvert and bridge washed out) and CR 2311 (culvert washed out).
In the city, Highland Road was closed due to an electrical pole being down and there were road closures on Reagan, Azell and Green streets.
“The Upper Lake area roads were impassable and U.S. 79 out in the Westwood area was closed all the way out to FM 645,” Wells said.
Due to the flooded roads, employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice units in Tennessee Colony and Walmart Distribution Center No. 6036 in Tucker faced dilemmas.
“All the roads the TDCJ guards would use to leave work or those coming in were closed so there was a time those that were on shift stayed and those were due to go in were unable to get there,” Wells said. “It was the same situation with Walmart warehouse – the employees could not leave due to safety and no one could get to work due to the floods.”
At 3:05 a.m., the City of Palestine issued a Code Red to all Palestine city residents signed up with the program to warn about high water on the roads and road closures.
“We wanted to prepare them before they started their morning commutes,” Wells said.
Officials from Palestine and Westwood school districts monitored the roads, with Palestine having to divert some of their routes. Some Westwood routes were impassable.
About 3:24 a.m., dispatch received a call from a man who was frantic about his wife, who was heading to work at Walmart Distribution Center No. 6036 in Tucker.
“He didn't know where she was but he knew which way she traveled,” Wells said.
Two Palestine PD officers responded, as well as the Tucker VFD.
“The VFD did locate her. At the time of the call she was unable to get out of the car and the car was taking on water. They were able to extract her from the vehicle without incident,” Wells said.
Around 4 a.m., Wells got in contact with the Texas Department of Public Safety crews to shut down FM 645 with city police blocking the roadway from the safest point on the city side and Tennessee Colony VFD shutting it down on the county side to FM 321 and FM 645.
“There were delays due to the weather, no doubt about that,” Wells said.
The heaviest rain cleared out of Palestine and Anderson County by 7 to 7:30 a.m. Thursday. The NWS had extended the flash flood warning until 9:30 a.m. Thursday to allow for runoffs due to continuing rains in town and in the county.
“Everyone did a great job working together,” Anderson County Emergency Management Coordinator Tammy Lightfoot said.
Anderson County officials did a Code Red announcement about the flooded roadways at 7 a.m.
“This was just a warning to be cautious for flooded roads,” Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor said. “We did have some accidents, some stuck vehicles and several parts of many roads in numerous parts of the county were flooded out. Most of that has receded.”
Taylor gave kudos to everyone who helped keep motorists safe during the downpour.
“The dispatchers were bombarded with calls but overall it was handled well,” Taylor said. “That's th e most rain we've seen around here in a long time. I hate that it all came down at once, but I thank God that we did get some rain.”
A few people did get stranded in the high water but there were no injuries reported.
“If you can't see the road, don't drive across it. The road could have washed out completely and you wouldn't know it,” Taylor said.
Tucker VFD Fire Chief Rick Sparks said it was “kind of spooky in the middle of the night, especially with the road construction.”
“If you can't see the bottom, don't drive through it,” Sparks reminded the public.