For the past month or so, the Austin American-Statesman has been collecting stories from Austinites who experienced the Memorial Day Flood of May 24, 1981. A few have been included in the paper, and today’s Metro & State section devotes a full page to a select few. All submissions can be found here.
On the morning of May 24, 1981, I arose after spending my first night sleeping on the floor of my brand new, unfurnished house in the Westlake area of Austin. Born and raised in Dallas, I had spent the last quarter-century away in college and serving in the United States Air Force. Bergstrom AFB would be my last assignment prior to retirement.
Oblivious to the storm of the night before, imagine my surprise when my new boss picked me up for breakfast before a day of fishing, and the previously dry-as-toast creek bed under the bridge at the intersection of Walsh Tarlton Lane and Sanderling Trail had now overflowed its banks.
Debris jammed against the guardrails of galvanized pipe on a walkway below the bridge had bent the rails at a 45-degree angle. Traveling east on Bee Cave Road, evidence of flooding on both sides of the street demonstrated the power of moving water, but nothing like what awaited us.
The picture above the announcement in the Statesman about collecting stories of Austinites who lived through the flood shows a stretch of Shoal Creek. In the background you can see what looks like a structure planted in the center of a bridge. That morning, as we waited for a police officer to direct traffic around the obstacle, I looked to my right and saw those smashed, overturned cars in the creek bed stacked up like cordwood.
A Toyota dealership used to sit on both sides of the road at one end of the bridge, pre-owned cars on the north and new inventory to the south. Both lots had been swept clean, including the small building that served as an office for the used-car sales staff. It now rested on the centerline of the road.
Later in our journey we paused with a view of Town Lake, where much of the entire inventory of two Austin businesses on Lamar Boulevard had been dumped. Sofas, china cabinets, armchairs, etc., from Lack’s Furniture floated serenely along with pianos from Strait Music.
Welcome back to Texas, where weather extremes are the norm, drought followed by flood and then more drought. If you don’t like conditions at the moment, all you have to do is wait 30 minutes.