WHARTON, Texas -- The Colorado River was beginning to pTC creep up Thelma Allen's driveway about noon yesterday when word began to spread through her neighborhood that the river would crest a foot and a half lower than earlier estimates.
"Praise the Lord!" shouted Mrs. Allen, a refrain that was picked up by friend Patricia Coleman, who had been standing with her in a front yard covered with soggy Christmas decorations. They both cried out, "We've been saved!"
There was relief throughout southeastern Texas as the flooding Colorado and Brazos rivers crested at lower levels than expected.
There were no injuries reported yesterday, but about two dozen houses in this town 60 miles southwest of Houston were invaded by the muddy waters of the Colorado. Had the early forecasts proved accurate, about 300 homes, a school and two factories might have been damaged, said Robert Miller, Wharton's city manager.
But people living along the Trinity River northeast of Houston will have to wait several days to learn how badly they will be affected, as a surge of water caused by heavy rains last week in central and northern Texas works its way downstream.
At least 15 people have been killed in the flooding, which began last weekend, and millions of dollars in damage has been done to residential property, farms and livestock.
President Bush inspected flooded areas of his adopted home state by plane yesterday morning on his way to a quail hunt at a 10,000-acre ranch in South Texas owned by his longtime friend, Will Farish III, a Houston oilman.
The hunt has been an annual event for Mr. Bush at the Christmas holiday for many years, although he canceled his trip last year because of the Persian Gulf war.
Arriving at the Chase Naval Air Station at Beeville yesterday morning, Mr. Bush said: "I know that this disaster has been a source of great personal tragedy to many here in Texas, a particularly bitter calamity during this holiday season.
"To those who have lost loved ones as a result of this catastrophe, Barbara and I send our deepest sympathies."
So far, five Texas counties in the central and northern parts of the state have been declared eligible for federal disaster relief, according to Gov. Ann Richards' office. Federal officials with Bush in Texas said about 2,500 people would qualify for loans and grants.
Much of the water spilled into fields and forests as it moved down the Colorado, the Brazos and the Trinity on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
As a result, state officials were obliged to repeatedly put off their estimates of crest times and lower their forecasts of flood crests.