Texas ranchers call for cowboys to round up stranded cattle
Death toll in floods stands at 29October 24, 1998
Web posted at: 12:04 a.m. EDT (0404 GMT)
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WHARTON, Texas (CNN) -- Ranchers in south and central Texas have put out the call for experienced cowboys to help them round up tens of thousands of cattle swept miles from their usual pastures by a week of devastating floods.
Friday was the first time many of the ranchers were able to return to their pastures along the flooding Colorado, Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers. Texas Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Melissa Burns termed the deluge "a thousand-year flood," the worst ever seen in south Texas.
The death toll from the floods and tornadoes that devastated the state stands at 29, with damage estimated at $500 million. About 1,500 of the 14,000 people evacuated during the floods remained in shelters Friday.
The latest victim found -- a man who drowned Monday when his car was washed from a road into a creek near Uvalde -- was discovered Friday.
In Wharton, an antebellum village 60 miles southwest of Houston, the Colorado River crested early Friday at 48.5 feet -- 2 feet above the record set in 1991. The town's west side was submerged, and as many as 800 homes were damaged.
"It'll be days before they get back into some of their houses -- at least," said Andy Kirkland, Wharton County's emergency management coordinator.
Gov. George W. Bush and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt met with flood victims in the town of Cuero, about 80 miles southeast of San Antonio, which has been left without drinkable water.
"It just breaks your heart," Bush said. "I hope our visit here starts the process of hope, that there is a tomorrow."
One of the flood victims Bush met was Venus Pena, who celebrated her 17th birthday in a shelter after the raging Guadalupe River destroyed her family's house.
"I never though I'd have to say I'm homeless," she told the governor, as he wrapped his arms around her.
"We're going to do the best we can," Bush said.
Witt said five more counties in southeastern Texas will be declared federal disaster areas, making flood victims eligible for aid. Already, 20 Texas counties have been designated disaster areas.
In Victoria, hard hit earlier in the week by the flooding Guadalupe, the water has receded from most neighborhoods. But residents weren't being allowed to return until gas lines are checked for safety.
While thousands of cattle have been found dead, thousands of others have swum and floated far afield from their homes. County extension agents are making lists of missing cattle, hoping to match them with cows that have been found.
Hot lines have been established for people to call when they see a cow that looks out of place. Some cattle can be identified by their notched ears or branded hides, and a few have rice-size microchips implanted in them for identification.
Finding the cattle is one thing -- returning them is another. Burns said the call has gone out for experienced cowhands to come to Texas, especially those with their own trucks and trailers.
Making matters worse for the cattle are floating balls of fire ants, which are getting into the noses and eyes of livestock.
Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.
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