A look back: 2-year anniversary of 2018 Llano River Flood

Weather

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Nancy Reznicek was getting ready for a vacation with her husband when the flood waters came. “It was very surreal morning,” Nancy says, “and one I was in denial in until I got out of the shower and my husband was yelling saying ‘we need to leave right this minute’.” They didn’t have time to grab anything as they rushed out the door.

Within hours, their home would be nearly six feet underwater.

It’s been two years since heavy rain in the Colorado River watershed caused the Llano River to overflow its banks, resulting in disastrous flooding across portions of Central Texas.

Heavy rain primes river for catastrophic flooding

The start of October 2018 featured a large upper level low over the southwest US and a series of cold fronts tapping into plentiful moisture. The remnants of both Hurricane Sergio and Hurricane Willa allowed for abundant moisture to be lifted by a pair of fronts, resulting in periods of steady, training rainfall.

The first event took place Oct. 9 when heavy rain hit the Hill Country. Mason County received over +10″ of rain and Lake Travis reported a 3-foot rise. Flooding occurred in the town of Junction, claiming the lives of 3 people.

COURTESY: National Weather Service Austin / San Anontio

With the ground already saturated, a second stalled front led to disaster, triggering 3″-6″ of rain across portions of the Hill Country in the morning with 3-day totals adding up to 7″-12″.

Many lakeside homes along Lake Marble Falls and Lake LBJ were flooded, massive amounts of debris were washed downstream including personal docks, boats and watercrafts.

Nancy’s home along Lake LBJ was one of the homes caught between the rising waters of the lake and nearby creeks. “The creek washing down and the lake created this large swirl right on our property,” Nancy says. Living room furniture was tossed into the bedroom, while the refrigerator was found in the living room.

The flooding prompted 10 flood gates to open on Wirtz and Starcke Dam on Oct. 16 … with more flood gates opened in the following days.

Will Levertt, a fifth generation Llano County native, thought the LCRA gauge was broken when he woke up. “The Llano River at Llano, which usually is 150-cubic-feet per second, was going 275,000-cubic-feet per second,” says Will, “that’s basically Niagara Falls.”

During the event, 38 USGS stream gauges were above flood levels… with the Llano River in Llano rising 35 feet in 24 hours.

Evacuations and closures

Nearly a dozen water rescues were reported in Kingsland in addition to one structure fire. Numerous evacuations were ordered in nearby areas. One fatality was reported near Lake Lyndon B. Johnson following the flooding.

Water quickly crept up on Charles Nutter and his father in Marble Falls. “I kind of got the idea things were getting pretty serious, so I told (my father) ‘it’s time to get you dressed and get you out of here,'” Charles says.

By the time he returned to the home that afternoon, after dropping his father off, the water was at the roofline. “You picture things the way they were… and you think you’ll walk in the door and things are going to be wet. That’s not the case at all. There’s six inches of mud inside and outside the house,” Charles says.

Local school districts were delayed or closed. A school bus driver and a middle school student had to be rescued after the driver went around a barricade and tried to go through a flooded low-water crossing. More closures were issued for lakes Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls and Travis.

Nancy and her husband cancelled their vacation and went to a nearby restaurant to watch the news. “We knew it was really bad when the bridge broke.” Nancy says. The RM 2900 bridge was only 900 feet from their house in Kingsland when flooding tore it from the ground and sent it tumbling down the river. The bridge was designed to withstand a 100-year-flood.

The upstream flooding caused the Austin Fire Department to ban boating and recreational use of water on Lake Austin from Mansfield Dam to Tom Miller Dam, Lady Bird Lake, and the Colorado River downstream of the Longhorn Dam. 

Disaster declarations & orders

Disaster declarations were issued in Bastrop, Burnet, Colorado, Fayette, Hood, Jim Wells, Kerr, Kimble, La Salle, Live Oak, Llano, Mason, McMullen, Nueces, Real, San Patricio, Travis, and Williamson Counties.

The LCRA opened several floodgates downstream in the days following to help relieve water from affected areas. Aaron Mittelstaedt, a Horseshoe Bay resident, watched as flood waters poured over Matt Starke Dam. “The noise of that water and all the floodgates open, you could almost feel it in your feet,” Aaron says.

Mandatory water-use restrictions and a boil water notice was also issued for the entire city of Austin as the historic flood poured unprecedented amounts of dirt, silt and debris into the Highland Lakes, the source of the city’s water supply.

At that time, Director of Austin Water Greg Meszaros said conditions like that had never been seen before in the department’s 100-year history.

Aaron was one of many who answered the call for help. First Baptist Church assembled teams to help clean up debris. “The volunteers were knee deep in mud,” Aaron said, “the snapshot I have in my head is the streets lined with everyone’s belongings.”

For the survivors, life has changed. Charles’ home was declared a disaster and he received no money to rebuild. FEMA didn’t offer Nancy any aid either. Her home still stands on the spot, a shell of what it once was.

You can read through the live blog written the day of the flood for more details.

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