Colorado River crests at highest level since 1913 in La Grange

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LA GRANGE, Texas (KXAN) — The Colorado River crested Monday afternoon in La Grange at a level not seen in more than 100 years. At 2 p.m. the river reached a stage of 54.2 feet. Fayette County officials expanded the mandatory evacuation zone.

The river crested at the fifth highest level on record at Smithville, reaching 31.9 feet. Homes and businesses were also flooded there.

Relief from the rain came too late for some rescuees seeking shelter from the Texas coast and the motel owners looking to provide them shelter at the Cottonwood Inn motel. Flood conditions on the Colorado River forced every guest out of the motel early Monday morning, after rain overflowed the creeks behind the business; water flooded every room and ultimately the entire parking lot.

Cottonwood Inn flooded in La Grange, Texas on Aug. 28, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Brittany Glas)

“At 5:30 a.m., we knocked on every door to get every customer get out – let them go and find a safe place,” explained Jay Jajal, who owns the motel with his wife. “Water was only like at three feet and then water started adding and adding and adding.”

The owners and their employees spent hours moving what belongings they could to higher ground and out of the flood area – everything from business paperwork to pets.

“Last night it flooded the creek in the back and it came up to the warehouse. They weren’t really worried about it because it never flooded like this here before,” said Joel Bachorek, a motel employee who lives on site. “I woke up and had about three inches of water on my floor.”

The couple bought the motel nearly 20 years ago – it was their dream to retire there. “It’s unbelievable that we see this happening to us,” said Jajal.

Now, everyone affected is left wondering what’s next.

“If they close, then I’m out of a job and a place to live,” said Bachorek.

“We work very hard, take a lot of losses,” added Jajal. “But, still we will continue.”

On Sunday morning, Fayette County issued a mandatory evacuation for everyone in the area from Water Street to the Colorado River in La Grange. People living along the river in other parts of the county were also evacuated. At 6:30 a.m. Monday, the mandatory evacuation zone in the unincorporated area was expanded by one-mile around the original evacuation zone.

Around 5:30 a.m. Monday, emergency crews were evacuating the Care Inn at La Grange, a nursing home located at North Water Street and Guadalupe Street. Fifty-three residents at the facility will need to be moved. Ten of the most critical care patients will be taken to a hospital. KXAN’s David Yeomans said the facility was not in the original evacuation zone. A second nursing home, the Jefferson Place Assisted Living is also being evacuated at this time.

Local evacuees are being directed to the shelter at Second Baptist Church located at 1010 N. Von Minden, La Grange.

Neighbors survey damage 

After crews shut down State Highway 71 Monday in La Grange, KXAN’s Brittany Glas had the opportunity to ride alongside the floodwaters in an ATV with an area homeowner who is monitoring conditions in the area.

James Cooper’s home was built in 1942. Although homes across the city were flooded by the Colorado River in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Cooper’s home was one that could go either way.

James Cooper, a La Grange resident, gave KXAN's Brittany Glas a closer look at the flood conditions Monday in an ATV. (KXAN Photo/Richard Bowes)

Cooper says the creek behind his home caused him concern. “The river’s usually a mile away from there,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”

By early Monday afternoon, what was once a dry creek in his backyard had become a lake.

“The wildlife are going crazy right now. There was deer out here swimming earlier and all the skunks and varmints are moving. Everybody’s trying to find dry land.”

Fortunately for Cooper, the Colorado River peaked, just feet enough away from his home early in the afternoon. Others weren’t as lucky.

“It’s going to be a long clean up here. The river’s going to be really nasty and debris is going to be everywhere,” he said.

But, he says the town will end up above water.

“It’s a strong community. Everybody caress for everybody, so everything will come out alright. We ain’t going nowhere,” said Cooper. “I’ve been here 34 years and I love where I live, and I have no intentions of leaving.”

In a Facebook video with KTIM Radio around 3 a.m. Monday, Fayette County OEM spokesperson Colton Brugger said the county is evaluating all the available data to make decisions as the situation is continuously changing.

“Overnight last night [Saturday into Sunday], Bastrop and the western side of Fayette County experienced a significant event that had extremely heavy rains last night and that’s why you saw some evacuations and a lot of activity in the Smithville area last night as the water made its way to the Colorado,” Brugger said in the video. “And I’m sure that’s what contributed to some of the predictions change related to the river crest.”

At 54.5 feet, this will the highest the river has crested in La Grange in 104 years.

State Highway 71 mainlanes, as well as Texas Business 71, are closed in La Grange because of the water. US 71 north of La Grange is also closed at Rabbs Creek.

Brugger said there are also reports that Interstate 10 just west of Flatonia was shut down as of Monday morning due to high water.

Evacuation areas for La Grange as of Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017.
Evacuation areas for Fayette County along the Colorado River as of Sunday, Aug. 27. 2017.

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