HOUSTON -- They found them tangled in trees and trapped in water-logged cars. Death turned up in gutters and in basements. By Sunday afternoon, there were 18 bodies in all, and officials dreaded more lurked undiscovered.
The waters that brought the nation's fourth-largest city to its knees over the weekend drained away slowly Sunday. As the city re-emerged, estimates of the damage suffered by homes and business soared to $1 billion.
The wreckage was wrought by Allison, a brutal tropical storm that wept lakes of water over Houston earlier in the week, drifted north and then -- in a rare spin -- returned to the Gulf of Mexico to gather strength before clobbering Houston all over again Friday and Saturday.
By the time the skies cleared Sunday, 28 counties in southeast Texas were swamped. About 10,000 Houston buildings and homes were flooded. Helicopters and trucks rumbled through neighborhoods, plucking stranded people from rooftops.
"The widespread nature of this, we've never seen before. It blew my mind," Rice University flood expert Philip Bedient said.
At least 15,000 people fled to makeshift shelters. Thousands of families soldiered on without lights or phone service. Stoplights were dead and many roads and highways remained closed late Sunday as the storm headed for Louisiana.
With water still being pumped out of buildings in downtown Houston, Mayor Lee Brown told city workers not to come into work Monday.
People who spent the weekend in shelters crossed their fingers and ventured home Sunday -- only to find waste.
"This ain't my house anymore," said Lyda Crews, her voice cracking as she gazed at the swampy wreckage of her living room in northwest Houston. She shuddered and swiped at her eyes. "I'm sorry. I just didn't get any rest the last two days."
Crews and her husband were stuck over the weekend in a dark, hot hospital room. Lonnie Crews was recovering from dialysis treatment when Hermann Hospital's generator sputtered to a stop Friday night.
When the lights first hummed off and the sudden silence of stilled machines filled the hospital, Crews didn't dare leave her husband's side. When she finally crept into the hallway, she found water lapping at the escalator.
"It was the weirdest thing. I went back, and we just sat there, scared. Lord, we were scared," Crews said Sunday.
The hours dragged on, and the couple grew weary with heat and dehydration. Outside, rain hammered the asphalt and lightning cracked the skies.
"The rain came down like something I'd never seen," Crews said. "It's like you lost your eyesight, like you done went blind."
There was nothing to do but wait and pray. All around them, patients were being wheeled into waiting helicopters and ambulances, critical cases first. Night turned to day, day to night again.
It was the small hours of Sunday morning before Lonnie Crews was ferried to recover at another hospital.
Then Lyda returned to their formerly pretty one-story home and found it trashed by thigh-high waters. Her computer was wrecked, along with the organ where Lonnie plunked away at his favorite hymns. The carpets were reduced to tangled piles of yarn and foam.
Elsewhere, as children frolicked in shallow puddles, health officials fretted over the bacteria festering on lawns, in parks and on kitchen floors.
Snakes and lizards floating in the flooded first floor of their home forced Al Guillen and his family to seek higher ground on the second floor. "We were having a battle with them last night. I kept telling them, 'This is my house, get out,"' Guillen said with a laugh Sunday after being rescued by the National Guard.
Those weren't the only varmints that emerged to feast on the remains: At least half a dozen abandoned houses and shops were looted. Officials warned against door-to-door salesmen peddling bogus cleanup and disinfecting treatments at inflated prices.
"There are people who take advantage of other people's distress, unfortunately," police spokesman John Leggio said.
In apartments across the city, a hard truth was remembered: Renters' insurance doesn't include flood protection. In downtown, skyscrapers stood dark, and filthy water poured from parking garages. The Harris County Courthouse was badly flooded.
The jail lost power, and 3,000 inmates were evacuated late Saturday.
In the Texas Medical Center, hospitals were still dark Sunday morning. "There's nothing to do but go home," said cardiologist Eddy Barasch, shaking his head in the entry to Hermann Hospital. "It's just heartbreaking."
Behind him, a deserted lobby was littered with broken glass, rotting leaves and sludge. Chairs were overturned. Caked mud marked the water line on the white walls.
"I'm way too exhausted to try to stay and help," said surgery resident Kevin Sirmons, who prowled the halls in his scrubs. "I've been working for two days straight. I don't even know if I got flooded at home."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.