911 calls from venue reveal desperate moments

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A steady flow of water continues to rush down the San Gabriel River in Williamson County. But it looked much different on September 22 and inside the Williamson County 911 call center calls for help were coming in.

911 OPERATOR: “… 911 do you need Police, Fire or EMS?

CALLER: “I don’t know. We are at Casa Rio de Colores, and we are flooding out and cars are hitting the building.”

Amy Wikman made that call.

“Yeah, it definitely still hits me,” said Wikman when she spoke to Fox 7 about surviving that night. 

Video recorded by Wikman showed the power of the flood waters that overwhelmed the wedding venue where she was staying. Casa Rio de Colores is in a remote area just south of Liberty Hill along the San Gabriel River.

“That moment made me realize that life is very, very short,” said Wikman.

911 OPERATOR: “Okay and what is the exact location and number of people that are there?”

CALLER: “…how many people are in your wedding? 90.” 

Most of the guests were staying in three buildings, but there were others on the property. Some were camping and sleeping in vehicles; completely unaware of the threat that was approaching.

First responders like Lt. Nicholas Popovic were stunned by the initial report and knew the scene would be chaotic.

“It was very unreal and surreal at the same time, very, very nervous,” said Popovic. 

As rescue units rolled out, more calls for help came in.

911 OPERATOR: “And tell me exactly what’s happening, Emily.”

CALLER: “Well I’m standing on top of a (inaudible) SUV, and everything else around me is water.”

A crew from Liberty Hill was the first to wade into the high water. They were then joined by swift water teams from across Williamson County and Austin. Leander Fire Department driver Daniel Donner and firefighter Mike Shine were among those to work through the darkness. 

“Things were constantly changing, from the speed of the water being very calm to moving very rapidly and quickly changing speed and direction,” said Donner. “To finding out where people were and which people were our priority that we needed to get out first.” 

Vehicles swept away became islands of refuge, not only for wedding guests but the responders.

“We had to actually crawl across the top of the cars into the trees to get to them,” said Popovic

911 OPERATOR: “We’re sending people in route to you, okay. How many people are out there?

CALLER: “There were some people they were in a tent and they climbed out and they’re floating away … the cars are floating away. And I’m about to climb on to the top of the truck, the water is rising.”  

911 OPERATOR: “Cars are floating away?”

CALLER: “Yes!”

“You just kinda got to move with the flow and be very flexible with what’s going on because we didn’t expect to do certain things that we ended up doing,” said Leander fireman Mike Shine.

At the 911 call center, operators tried to keep control of the situation. 

911 OPERATOR: “Chad or Emily can either of you hear me?

RESPONDER TRAFFIC: “The call center says they’re still on the phone but, the line is open, but they’re not answering. So it sounds like it’s getting pretty hectic.”

911 OPERATOR: “Yeah I can hear people, like starting to scream in the background.”

CALLER: (Whistling shouts for help x3)

“All that was going through my mind was; wow. Very intense, everything happened very fast and just glad that we got out of it and we could do what we did,” said Popovic.

One of the most intense 911 calls for help involved a man identified as Mike Schrader.  

CALLER: “I was sleeping in the back of my truck, here at Casa de Colores, in my pickup truck tent, and the water is up almost over my tailgate on my truck right now and it’s way too high for me to get anywhere.”

911 OPERATOR: “The only thing I can advise you, sir, is to do your best to cling onto anything that you can until we can get somebody to you, they’re trying to get to you as quickly as they can.”

CALLER: “Oh, this is going to not end well.” 

Just as things seemed hopeless, a boat arrived.

“I was glad we all made it back, because things can go really south in those types of situations,” said Shine.

Amy Wikman still gets emotional thinking about those who saved their lives and about the moment she knew help was on the way.

“I’m on the phone with 911 and she is telling me that people are coming and then you hear a helicopter and you recognize that people woke up in the middle of the night from their sleep and they got ready and they got to us, and they saved lives, you can’t, I can’t say thank you enough,” said Wikman.

What no one could know was that more storms were coming to central Texas. The same first responders would soon be back in high water answering similar calls for help.