Flooding Near Toyah, Texas on April 4, 2004
Bridge Collapse on Interstate 20

Information courtesy of John Lipe,
WFO Lubbock Service Hydrologist


Flash flooding of Salt Draw near Toyah, TX (west of Pecos) caused the failure of a protective levee around Toyah, extensive flooding of most homes and property in Toyah, and the destruction of the I-20 bridge over Salt Draw between Toyah and Pecos, TX in Reeves County. Indirectly, 5 lives were also lost in a weather related traffic accident on U.S. Hwy. 285 south of Pecos, which was being used as a detour because of the bridge failure.
photo of collapsed bridge

The weather-related fatalities in West Texas occurred in a four-vehicle wreck at about 4:30 a.m. on U.S. Hwy. 285 in southeastern Reeves County, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. That two-lane highway was used as a detour for eastbound traffic on I-20 after a bridge over the normally dry Salt Draw was washed away Sunday evening by fast-moving water that had broken an upstream dam earlier in the day.
No one was hurt when the I-20 bridge crumbled into the Salt Draw about 15 miles west of Pecos. Authorities said they had advance warning that the collapse was coming and were able to close the road to both eastbound and westbound traffic.
Bill Powell, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation in Austin, said that about 80 feet of roadway in the eastbound lanes fell into the river, and that additional 40-foot segments on each side of the river were also damaged. On the westbound side, Powell said one of the upright supports holding up the bridge had moved six to eight inches, opening a crack in the roadway. He said TxDOTengineers were assessing the extent of the damage. "The water below the bridge looks like the Mississippi -- strong, muddy-brown currents," he said. "It's very strong under the bridge."

The following are images from this catastrophic weather event that impacted Reeves County.
photo of flooding following a levee break
This section of protective levee around Toyah washed out causing flash flooding through the town. The levee was built in 1940 to protect the town from flooding. A debris line exists along remaining sections of the levee very near the top, suggesting that the failure was caused by water going over the top.
erosion of a bridge over Salt Draw
This bridge over Salt Draw is immediately downstream of the point of failure in the levee. This bridge was most likely a contributing cause of the failure as it acted as a dam across Salt Draw during high flow. Although water flowed around the bridge through a wide low lying section to it’s north, one cannot help but notice that the point of failure was immediately upstream of the bridge.
bridge over Salt Draw
This bridge was about ½ mile downstream of the other bridge at the point of levee failure. Looking at the high water debris line, it was obvious that even this lower profile bridge was acting as a dam. The high water mark was within 6 inches of topping the levee at this point. One can only speculate as to whether the levee would have been topped if the bridge were not existent or if both were of this lower profile.

 

bridge over Salt Draw
A faint line across the road near the top of the levee indicates the high water debris line. Note it sloped downward to the left or downstream side of the bridge.

 


flooding that resulted from a failed levee
Another view of the section of levee that failed


This is a typical home in Toyah. Most buildings in Toyah experienced 2 to 4 feet of muddy flood waters. We were told that almost all of the cities dumpsters, spare lumber, and everything else outside was washed downstream and lost.

 

flood damage near a home in Toyah
flood damage photo in Toyah at an old bank building
Note the high-water mark on brick (dark section lower left) on an old bank building in downtown Toyah.

photo of a collapsed bridge near Toyah
Collapsed east bound lane of I-20 bridge between Toyah and Pecos over Salt Draw
photo of a collapsed bridge near Toyah
Notice the middle bridge support is tilted and lower than the others

In the next 3 photos, notice the drop in the stream level as it enters the bridge area. It is believe the rock embankment caused a hydrologic jump with associated standing wave, which undermined the bridge supports and very significantly deepened the channel through the bridge area. It should be noted that the high watermark line was well below the bridge level. At the ends of the bridge area, it was up about 1 foot on the concrete embankment at the west end.

water flowing under the Interstate 20 bridge near Toyah
water flowing under the Interstate 20 bridge near Toyah

water flowing under the Interstate 20 bridge near Toyah

This is a view of Salt Draw upstream from the bridge. This wash is normally dry. The photo was taken the day after the bridge collapsed.

 

This is Salt Draw crossing a county road southwest of Pecos, TX (downstream from the bridge collapse).

 


picture of a sinkhole forming due to excessive rainfall
picture of a sinkhole forming due to excessive rainfall

A sinkhole was beginning to open up along this county road southwest of Pecos.

In addition to the flooding near Toyah, a tornado was reported a few miles northwest of Balmorhea around 7:17 pm. Click here for a radar image of this storm. In addition, this supercell thunderstorm near Verhalen likely produced large hail as it moved across southern Reeves county.

USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.