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Water proves its power

6/13/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

ELLIS -- Another round of heavy rains brought a second wave of onlookers Thursday to see water rushing over the Big Creek dam in Ellis.

Many of the vehicles, however, drove right on by, looking instead for the luggage rack of a Toyota sport utility vehicle -- all that was visible of a submerged vehicle.

It had contained five people when it was swept away by rushing waters Wednesday night.

Among those looking on was Ellis Police Chief Taft Yates, who received words of thanks and a hug from a relative of the driver of a vehicle washed away by the rushing Big Creek waters.

The sport utility vehicle was swept away as it started to enter the creek -- swollen by another 4 to 5 inches of rain Wednesday night.

Yates was quick to urge caution for anyone facing the prospect of driving -- or walking -- into water.

"That's what people do not understand," he said, "the power it has."

Authorities received a call of distress at approximatley 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, the report of a vehicle -- its occupants clinging to the roof of the Toyota -- as it was being swept downstream.

The vehicle, Yates said, started to enter the water on a low-water crossing a few hundred yards downstream of the dam.

As it entered the water, it was swept nearly 100 yards further downstream of the crossing.

"That shows the power of this small amount of water," he said.

Water in Big Creek at the time the vehicle was swept away was perhaps a foot or so lower than it was Thursday when onlookers watched the water, Taft said, but it was enough to go about half-way up the wheels on the Toyota.

As it started to sink in, the water went higher and higher.

Initially, Yates said, there were five people in the vehicle, one of whom was able to get out of the water and left the area.

So, Yates said, for a time, authorities had both a search-and-rescue mission underway with the four people hanging on to the vehicle, as well as a search operation for the fifth person -- whose whereabouts weren't known at the time.

It's unclear why the individual left the scene, Yates said, and the other four occupants were uncertain as well.

Firefighters from the Ellis Fire Department, aided by volunteers who helped handle ropes securing the vehicle and the rescuers, were able to get the four out of the water.

"Everybody did a good job," Yates said of the rescue.

But while he urged caution about being safe in flood waters, he also urged anyone involved to stick around afterwards.

"If you do get in a situation like that, get on top of your vehicle and wait for rescuers to come," he said.

The situation turned out better than it might have, Yates said.

"It could have been very bad," he said. "It could have been a fatality very easily."

The vehicle won't be removed from the scene until water levels fall.