Officials: 5 Houston children dead in swamped car

By MICHAEL GRACZYK
Associated Press Writer

HOUSTON (AP) -- Five Houston children died Saturday after their sedan slid into a rain-swollen ditch when the driver lost control while trying to answer a cell phone, authorities said.

John Cannon, a Houston police spokesman, told several Houston television stations that the driver of the car was the father of four of the dead children, all 7 or younger. Cannon said the driver was taken for blood-alcohol testing.

The father was among two adults and a 10-year-old girl who escaped the fast-moving current that swept the car 100 feet from where it left the road and made the vehicle inaccessible to emergency workers for hours, Cannon said.

Houston television station KTRK reported that police said the dead children included 1- and 3-year-old girls and three boys, ages 4, 6 and 7.

Cannon said a passenger told police the driver's cell phone rang, and the driver lost control when he tried to answer it.

Houston Fire Assistant Chief Omero Longoria said in the online edition of the Houston Chronicle that rescue workers found the car in 9 feet of water about 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 1/2 hours after the driver lost control.

The children's deaths brought the weekend death toll to six from massive storms that swept across southeast Texas.

A 76-year-old Fayette County man died Friday after his car got stuck in a flooded underpass in Schulenburg, midway between Houston and San Antonio. Frank Floyd, 76, of Hallettsville, drowned after he and his wife became trapped after driving into a flooded railroad underpass on U.S. 77, said Schulenburg Police Chief Randy Mican.

"It filled up with water pretty quick and the water kept rising," said Mican, who estimated the water depth reached 8 to 9 feet. "It's not common to flood that much."

Floyd's wife, Mary, 72, managed to escape and was taken to a hospital. Her injuries were not believed life-threatening, the chief said.

By 5 p.m. Saturday, nearly 5 inches of rain had fallen at Houston's Hobby Airport, a record for April 18.

The initial leg of an annual 150-mile charity bike ride involving more than 13,000 cyclists raising money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society was washed out Saturday by the second consecutive day of heavy rain.

The 25th annual MS 150 had been scheduled for Houston to La Grange. It was scrapped after Friday's torrential downpours flooded the Fayette County Fairgrounds, where tents were set up for overnight accommodations for participants. Saturday's continuing rains made riding treacherous.

"The safety of our participants and volunteers is the first priority," the Lone Star Chapter of the National MS Society said in a statement.

Organizers of one of the nation's largest such events hoped clearing weather forecast for Sunday would allow for the second half of the ride from La Grange to Austin.

It was the wettest April 17 on record in College Station, where 2.94 inches of rain Friday broke a mark set 30 years ago when 1.68 inches fell. Houston also set a record for the most rain for the day, with the 1.9 inches topping the old mark of 1.85 in 1992.

At least 10 inches of rain fell Friday in Colorado County, about 70 miles west of Houston, closing some roads. Hail measuring 1.75 inches in diameter was reported Friday night in Laredo, along with some street flooding in Zapata County in the Rio Grande Valley.

More heavy rain fell Saturday, and nearly all of East Texas and portions of South Texas were under some kind of threatening weather advisory with tornado warnings and watches and flash flood warnings and watches in place.

U.S. 87 south of Cuero, about 80 miles southeast of San Antonio, was closed by a flash flood Saturday. A tornado was spotted in a rural area near Marquez, about 60 miles southeast of Waco. Firefighters reported a barn was toppled by high winds near Rosebud in Milam County, about 35 miles southeast of Waco.

In Robertson County, between College Station and Waco, authorities said a possible tornado during a thunderstorm Saturday morning downed trees and power lines and left some windows broken in Franklin, the county seat.


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