Official: Flood gauges hit by water rushing twice the force of Niagara Falls


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on November 6, 2013 at 7:28 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 6 at 7:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Onion Creek was transformed into a raging river last Thursday. The Halloween flood set a new record for high water levels in the creek. More than 1,000 homes were damaged and five people died.

At a town hall meeting in the Dove Springs area Tuesday night homeowners had a lot of questions, and one comment caused concern.

"We relied too much, me, on technology and gauges that were not working properly," said Police Chief Art Acevedo. 

The idea that gauges didn't work upset many people, but City staff say the comment was taken out of context.

"They didn't malfunction. They were knocked out, and it was because of the sheer force of the water that went through there," explained City of Austin Deputy City Manager Michael McDonald. 

The gauges being discussed are two U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) gauges in Onion Creek. One is located at Twin Creeks Road, the other at U.S. Highway 183.

"It's not like the water rose because of the rain that was occurring in this area. The water came from down stream and so it was hit with a force equivalent to twice the force of Niagara Falls," explained McDonald. "On average I would say a constant level in that area is about 10 feet. The flood we experienced this past week was 41 feet high."

Even before the gauges were knocked out, there were crews on scene measuring the water. 

"USGS staff was out there doing manual measurements, and they were just texting us that information every 10 minutes," explained Matthew Porcher with the Flood Early Warning Systems Department. 

The issue became how quickly the water rose. At one point it came up 11 feet in just 15 minutes.

City staff will evaluate what they did right and wrong in due time.

"We're not to the point of fully evaluating this incident, we're still trying to get people back into their homes and get some normalcy to their lives," said McDonald.

Another concern was reverse 911 calls. Some people received them while others did not. Officials with the Austin Fire Department said they only issued calls to people who could get out of their homes safely in their vehicles, fearing if people tried to leave and had to cross water on the roads, they would get stuck.

Because reverse 911 calls traditionally call land lines, officials are encouraging people to register their cell phones to receive calls as well. Click here to register your number.

People have compared the Halloween flood to the one in 2001, but City officials say last week's flood was much worse. In 2001 the water rose 36.5 feet, making it the fourth worst flood in Onion Creek history. 

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