AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thursday night when rain came pouring down in Central Texas, an Austin police officer risked his life to help a man who officials believe is homeless.
Thursday, police responded to 705 North Bluff Drive in south Austin at around 7:30 p.m. When the officer arrived, Commander Brian Jones said a woman told him “her son was trapped in the water.”
“The first responding officer immediately went into the creek bed and heard an adult male yelling for help. He was holding on to some trees in the creek bed,” Jones explained.
The officer’s body-worn camera footage showed fast flowing water, and at one point during the rescue, a sudden drop, which submerged the officer in neck deep water.
In the video, you can hear that officer telling his partner, “I think he’s washed away. I’m going to go after him.”
Jones said that’s bravery.
The officer was able to rescue the man. Jones told us the man left, “without so much as a thank you.”
Dangers of camping in creek beds
Jones said police also evacuated a homeless camp after the rescue.
“They were basically people living in tents. I don’t have an exact number on that, but it was a handful of tents, a handful of people,” he said. “They were immediately evacuated and taken to higher ground.”
He explained that because creek beds are dangerous, police can enforce no-camping rules and tell people they cannot be there.
“We cannot let them camp in areas that are prone to flooding,” he said. “We all know living in central Texas, when it starts to rain — and rain heavily — creek beds can rise, low water crossings spring up all over the place, so it’s a very dangerous situation for people living in that situation, in camps near flood prone areas.”
Before homeless camping rules came into the spotlight, back in May, a similar situation turned deadly.
A homeless man was swept away by the raging waters of Shoal Creek downtown.
Last week, Austin’s City Council voted to clarify the city’s camping ordinance, but what ended up passing did not include specific language about creek or river beds.
City leaders said because those are inherently dangerous, police can use their judgment to clear creek or river beds as needed.
City Council Member Ann Kitchen told us last week, she still wanted clear language in the ordinance.
“While we hope that the police will be able to enforce in those areas, it’s much clear, much easier for everybody involved if you clarify it in the law,” she said.
Austin’s Watershed Protection Department told KXAN Friday, “Camping in flood-prone areas can put people at risk of drowning.”
They sent a statement:
Watershed Protection has the authority to remove encampments in our infrastructure and in flood-prone areas on our lands. In December, we will be seeking to renew a contract to clean and remove these encampments, partnering with social services to assist those affected. We prioritize encampments at sites with the highest flood risk.
Due to the dynamic and widespread nature of homeless encampments, we do not have a way at this time to identify and track all encampments by creeks or a systematic way to personally notify residents at all encampments of potential flooding. City staff will warn people camping in a handful of known high risk areas when we are aware of a significant risk of flooding. In addition, in the course of our work, if our staff see people camping in a flood-prone area, we let them know about potential flood risks and to seek higher ground if water begins to rise.