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Rivers crest as Texas flood toll climbs

House standing in high water
A home in Wharton sits in high water  
Detailed map of affected area

CNN's Charles Zewe is in Wharton, Texas, where the river is expected to crest Friday
Windows Media 28K 56K
October 23, 1998
Web posted at: 4:20 p.m. EDT (2020 GMT)

In this story:

WHARTON, Texas (CNN) -- The rain is gone, but record-high water is still rising Friday in parts of southeastern Texas. The death toll from the flooding has reached 29 people, including five children.

In Wharton, an antebellum village 60 miles southwest of Houston, the Colorado River was expected to crest above 48 feet -- 2 feet above the record set in 1991, but below earlier predictions.

That meant Wharton's business district would stay dry. But in a low-income section of town known as the "End," residents who don't have much, lost what little they had. On Thursday, authorities in airboats urged evacuations as water relentlessly seeped into the neighborhood, flooding dozens of homes and an elementary school.

It took water covering her front steps and relentless coaxing to get 94-year-old Ira Mae Anderson out of the single-story wood frame house she has called home most of her life.

It took lots of coaxing to get 94-year-old Ira Mae Anderson to leave her flooded Wharton, Texas, home  

For hours, she waved off rescuers who came by boat through waist-high floodwaters to ferry her to safety. She refused to even let them inside.

She had been through floods before. Finally, she realized that this one was different, and agreed to go, all 75 pounds of her in a pink-flowered night dress.

"I'm used to being alone," said Anderson, who'll stay with friends until the flood recedes.

But Wharton Mayor Joel Williams said he's worried that the water might recede as slowly as it has risen, which could delay cleanup efforts.

Official measures river levels
An official monitors river levels  

Officials to tour flood zone

After 18 inches of rain that began falling last Saturday, rivers across central and south Texas reached record levels, causing more than $400 million in destruction and forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

Twenty counties have been declared federal disaster areas, clearing the way for federal loans and other assistance, and Gov. George W. Bush has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to add five more counties to the list.

On Friday, Bush and FEMA Director James Lee Witt were to fly over the hard-hit towns of Victoria and Cuero, then tour the flood-ravaged neighborhoods on foot.

Correspondents Charles Zewe and The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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