Flood of '98 remembered

Deluge created disaster 2 decades ago this week


It has been 20 years since Gonzales witnessed the worst flood to hit these parts in recorded history. A perfect formula of a Pacific hurricane, cool front, and Gulf moisture produced a band of storms that kept on coming until the Guadalupe River crested at 51.8 feet. Flood stage begins at 30 feet.

Areas in Gonzales County received 13 inches of rain over that weekend, while communities upriver saw 20 inches, which opened the floodgates to this historic deluge.

And it wasn't just Gonzales that witnessed the full fury of the storm. Residents from New Braunfels to Cuero were also hard hit with calamity and carnage. The Guadalupe and San Marcos rivers, along with numerous creeks and watersheds, combined to make Gonzales an island for a day.

In town, the fire department went into high gear as numerous water rescues had to be performed. The entirety of Green DeWitt Village's 64 units was evacuated within 15 minutes after the raging river ripped through a natural levee and headed for the low-lying parcel. Afterward, 56 units were rendered unusable, and the community center was a total loss. Out in the country, flat bottom boats were used by helpful citizens to rescue their neighbors in need.

According to the Inquirer, one of the most complicated rescues involved the evacuation of the Warm Springs Rehabilitation Hospital in Ottine, which was inundated by the San Marcos River. About 53 patients were picked up by National Guard helicopters and ferried to the Gonzales Municipal Airport where they were then taken by road to a safe location.

Much of the flooding in town occurred on the south side, with most of St. Vincent Street filling with water, along with many homes. The Rivercrest subdivision lived up to its name, with more evacuations being required from there.

According to then Gonzales County Emergency Services Coordinator Andy Rodriguez, 350-400 people were displaced by the flooding and there were 80-100 water rescues. While there was no loss of life here, Gonzales County resident Jason Scott Baker, 22, perished after his car was washed off the road two miles east of Seguin on Hwy. 90-A that Sunday morning.

Over in Waelder, 35 residents had to be evacuated as Bald Ridge and Waelder creeks flooded. Two small city bridges were also lost.

In the aftermath, President Bill Clinton declared the county a disaster area on Oct. 21 along with 19 other Texas counties.

But the damage through the affected areas in Gonzales was thorough. Houses were saturated, parts of Hwy. 183 were washed away, and Independence Park saw heavy damage with nine feel of water filling the golf course club house. The golf carts and their sheds, a storage building containing Summer Youth Program equipment, and the Little League stands and backstop were all destroyed.

A temporary debris removal site was staged at Apache Stadium. Another casualty was the Ottine Swamp Fest, which had to cancel most of its events due to damage at Palmetto State Park.

In all, the city came out better than expected, with damage to city equipment not as bad as first feared. But across all of the affected areas up and down the rivers, 25 people lost their lives and $500 million in damages were reported.