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Storms, winds, lash Texas; 2 missing

Austin, Texas — Another round of storms and strong winds moved east across Texas on Saturday, and two people were still missing from earlier flash floods in the Austin area.

In the Houston area, up to 7 inches of rain had fallen since Friday night and the resulting flooding suspended public transportation, and a Harris County official said a tornado had been reported in the south part of the county, and officials were checking on any possible damage there.

Francisco Sanchez of the Harris County Office of Emergency Management said several water rescues had taken place. Utilities in East Texas said 44,000 customers were without power.

The National Weather Service also issued a flash flood watch for areas near Houston, Galveston, Bryan, College Station, Tyler and Texarkana until Saturday afternoon.

The storms and suspected tornadoes have socked an already-sodden swath of Texas that was still drying out from the remnants of Hurricane Patricia. Austin, San Antonio and surrounding areas were first hit Friday. Two people died when they were swept away by flood waters, and a man and a woman also were still unaccounted for in separate incidents.

Teams from the National Weather Service were to examine three areas Saturday where tornadoes were thought to have touched down.

More than 16 inches of rain soaked one neighborhood on Friday and Austin Bergstrom International Airport suspended all flights after a half-foot of water flooded the air traffic control tower; 40 flights were canceled there on Saturday.

Meanwhile, a lazy creek cutting through Texas wine country, a popular getaway spot, swelled into a rushing torrent, sending eight members of a vacationing church group scrambling to a second floor before they were rescued by the National Guard.

Similar conditions in May — soaking storms on the heels of others — caused devastating flooding on the Blanco River that swept homes from foundations and killed families who were carried downstream. The Blanco River this time swelled to about 26 feet in Wimberley, nearly twice the flood stage.

Also Friday, powerful winds tossed a trailer from an RV park onto the roof of a three-story Holiday Inn. Abandoned cars, many submerged in water, littered back roads that weary drivers risked after heavy downpours flooded Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin, closing one of the busiest stretches of roadway in the U.S.

Forecasters say an upper-level disturbance from Mexico carried the storms into Texas, and a strong El Nino is expected to make for a wet winter in the U.S.

Farther south in Floresville, a suspected tornado caused only minor injuries, said Sgt. Jason Reyes of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Ruth Veliz, whose parents own a taco shop in town, said one of her employees yelled “Tornado!” and tried to keep the winds from blowing inside before a customer pulled her to safety.

“The door was flying open with her as she was trying to close it,” Veliz said.