AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Record-setting rainfall Monday brought floods and damage to many parts of Texas. Flash floods in north Texas put busy roads underwater, trapping drivers. Some had to swim to safety, others were saved by rescue teams. A 60-year-old woman, a rideshare driver, died on a flooded Dallas-Fort Worth road.
Brittany Taylor of Dallas was one of many who woke up Monday to her entire apartment flooded, just two days after she moved in.
“I looked out the window, and I might as well have been on a boat because the water was so high outside,” she said.
Taylor said because she had just moved in, she wasn’t sure if the loud rain noises were normal or not. When she finally got out of bed she looked out the window and saw the flooded streets, only to find it had made its way into her apartment.
“That was my dream apartment. I didn’t even get to have a housewarming party,” she said.
Between her apartment and car, Taylor guesses she lost tens-of-thousands worth of property. Friends and family have quickly rallied behind her, starting a GoFundMe to help her recover.
“This apartment for me was such a milestone of me being able to provide for myself. It’s been a journey to get here. And in one night, I lost my apartment and my car. It’s one of my biggest financial setbacks,” she said. “I wish I was in a position where I could take care of myself and not need help.”
Some parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area saw upward of 15 inches of rain in a five to six-hour timespan. At a press conference Tuesday morning with state leaders, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said the city is assessing how infrastructure held up, but acknowledged that amount of rain in a short period of time would be tough for even more flood-prepared cities.
On Tuesday, Governor Abbott went to Dallas, where he signed a disaster declaration for 23 counties affected by the severe weather.
The rain comes at a time when Texas is facing a serious drought. It’s welcomed by farmers and ranchers, even though it may have come too late to make a difference for this year’s crops and cattle.
“We had a great year last year can’t complain, but this year is for the birds,” said Deborah Hajda, owner of Raising Five Cattle Company in Williamson County.
Hajda said her family’s operations haven’t had the best harvest this year. Their corn crop is mostly stalks, she said and their cotton never did bloom.
She said the drought along with inflation has driven up feed costs, pushing other ranchers to sell their cattle to offload the burden of feeding them. Hajda said this could have a ripple effect in the grocery store in the near future.
“It’s going to be a three-year hit on this industry,” said Hajda. “You sell off mommas, babies, pregnant mommas, you can’t get those back in the market for three years – so beef could get expensive.”
But there are signs the tide may be turning when it comes to the drought.
“Overall the drought is not fixed by far, but we are seeing some measurable and significant improvements,” said meteorologist David Yeomans.
He pointed to a map showing last week’s drought conditions across Texas. Then, much of the state was shown facing extreme, even exceptional drought. This week’s map shows improvement.
“Much of the state is still in bad drought conditions, but certainly not as bad as it was,” Yeomans said, as he looked at the shifting lines on the drought map.
Yeomans also pointed to encouraging signs in the longer-term outlook to ease the drought.
We are seeing consistent signs of wetter than normal weather not only for the next week, not only for the next two weeks through the start of September, but all the way into the beginning of fall,” Yeomans explained.
“Signs are in our favor for continued slow, steady drought improvement through at least November 30,” he added.
Back at her ranch, Hajda said she’s staying optimistic about the future.
“You can’t get into the doom and gloom of the drought,” said Hajda. “Having been through them before, if you can get a 2-inch rain in August that’s a great sign.”
Trigger law brings new focus on abortion rights on the campaign trail
The state’s anti-abortion trigger law took effect Thursday. Now, performing an abortion in Texas is a felony punishable by up to life in prison. Some Democrats are now putting a new emphasis on abortion rights on the campaign trail.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott has applauded efforts to restrict abortion in Texas, and touted his own work toward that goal. Polling shows that many Texas voters may support fewer restrictions than what state lawmakers approved. Democrat Beto O’Rourke is reaching out to those voters.
“An abortion ban with no exception for rape or incest, that is not us,” O’Rourke said at a news conference Thursday in Houston. “That may be Greg Abbott. It is not the people of Texas,” he added.
Abortion is shaping up as a key issue in the race for Texas Attorney General. Republican incumbent Ken Paxton has made clear that he supports the state’s laws that ban almost all abortions.
“Praise the Lord. Abortion is now illegal in Texas,” Paxton posted on Twitter in June, on the day the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was released. He also closed his office that day, vowing to make it an annual holiday, he said as a memorial to lives lost because of abortion.
Paxton’s opponent in the November election, Democrat Rochelle Garza, is campaigning on restoring abortion rights.
“As attorney general, I’ll have constitutional powers to protect Texans against this extreme abortion ban,” Garza said in an advertisement released Thursday. “I’ll make sure that doctors can continue saving lives without risking prison or losing their medical license,” Garza promised in the ad.
The online campaign ad was released jointly with Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for Texas Lieutenant Governor. Both Collier and Garza vowed to work to protect abortion rights in Texas.
The joint ad did not include O’Rourke. Also on Thursday, O’Rourke released his own ads, focusing on abortion rights.
Teacher Vacancy Task Force prepares to testify for lawmakers
While Texas public schools start the year with vacancies and permanent substitutes, the group charged with addressing the state’s teacher shortage met again, this time to begin crafting recommendations for lawmakers.
The House Committee on Public Education is inviting the Teacher Vacancy Task Force‘s chair, Dallas ISD teacher Josue Torres, to speak before lawmakers next month, according to the committee.
“My understanding is that we will have representatives at the public education hearings and then if we have recommendations that are ready to go, that we will release those or at least the topic of those as they are ready,” task force member and Highland Park ISD teacher Jean Streepey said.
“We will not wait till March if we actually have something ready to go before then even if it’s on a certain topic,” Streepey added.
Already, the task force has split into four working groups, including two focused on educator preparation programs and compensation. The group is set to release its final list of recommendations to lawmakers, the Texas Education Agency, and local school districts in February.
“Our next step, and we got partway there this time, is to then figure out who can make that change,” Streepey said. “The recommendations, I think, that are coming out of here are thoughtful and supported and I hope that the people coming behind us, the legislature and our state boards and our districts and in our state will come along beside us and recognize that those are well-thought-out recommendations and come to the table with us and help make that happen for our teachers.
Even as the task force works to come up with recommendations, school districts in the state are still working to fill vacancies in the first weeks of school.
In Central Texas, Hays CISD started the school year with 19 long-term substitute teachers. Austin ISD still had more than 200 teacher openings on the first day of school – down from the more than 1,000 vacancies the district had at the start of summer.
KXAN Investigators obtained exit forms from hundreds of Austin ISD teachers who quit their jobs in the middle of the school year since the pandemic began, and similar data from several other districts across the state, revealing how inflation, stagnant salaries and last-minute legislative mandates led to state-wide teacher shortages.
“The rate of inflation and compared to the rise in salaries, and, you know, our teachers, our teachers deserve to be able to pay their mortgages and feed their families and enjoy their time. They cannot go home every night, with a pile of schoolwork to do when they have their own families at home,” Streepey said.
Presentations obtained by KXAN show during the task forces’ latest meeting, it also discussed multiple ideas for staffing schools in the future, including creating positions that would take on duties traditionally handled by teachers like grading papers and lesson planning.
The committee is set to meet again in October.
Family frustrated Texas hasn’t returned dead brother’s money
Flipping through photo albums and seeing pictures of his younger brother, Robert, is a bittersweet journey for Ronnie Reynolds.
Robert died nearly nine years ago.
“He was a very free spirit,” Ronnie said. “His lifestyle was rather rebellious.”
Robert lived an exciting and nomadic life in the film industry, his brother recounted, listing off jobs like electric grip, best boy and roles behind the camera.
But now his family is involved in a production with the state of Texas that they said seems to have no ending.
Months ago, Robert’s family put his name in the “Texas Unclaimed Property” website and found out he was owed about $700 from several institutions.
Every year, the Texas Comptroller’s Office returns hundreds of millions of dollars in unclaimed property to its rightful owners. The money and property come from things like forgotten utility deposits, dividends, insurance proceeds and abandoned safe-deposit box contents.
The family sent in Robert’s death certificate and documents proving his sister is the administrator of his estate.
“This isn’t about the money,” Ronnie explained. “It’s just that my sister put in this effort to get the money.”
He added, “My sister has gone through paperwork and doing what the people asked her to do, but then they send her back asking for her to do something that she has either a) already done or wasn’t required in the first place per their regulations and their directions.”
He said she received requests more than once for a will, which his sister explained Robert didn’t have.
Five months later, the family still doesn’t have the money.
“I feel that it’s probably some — just some minor human screw up,” Ronnie said.
KXAN reached out to the Texas Comptroller’s Office, which runs the Texas Unclaimed Property program.
A spokesman, citing privacy, would not discuss the procedures involved in the family’s claim, but he did say the payout is on its way.
Generally speaking, the spokesman said it’s not unusual for the process to take three to four months and it can be complicated when it’s the property of someone who has died.
His family is putting in all this effort for a guy, his brother said, who lived life on his own terms and had a “healthy skepticism” of the government.
When Investigator Mike Rush asked, “What would your brother say about all of this,” Ronnie laughed.
“I don’t think we want to record that,” he said.
To check the Texas Unclaimed Property program to see if the state owes you money, go to claimittexas.org.