1940 Hallettsville Flood

Hallettsville Tribune, Tuesday, July 2, 1940


The worst flood in its history struck this city Sunday morning, leaving behind destruction and death.

Several people perished and the property loss runs into several hundred thousand dollars. On store stocks and fixtures alone, the loss is estimated at a hundred thousand dollars.

The Lavaca River rose to 41 feet – ten feet above any previous record. Ordinarily crossable anywhere on foot, the little river became a mighty stream almost a mile wide.

Never before did the flood water reach the stores on the square. This time they were flooded from three to eight feet high. H. G. Timm’s and Frank Bucek & Sons’ stores were hit the hardest. Each suffered a loss of several thousand dollars.

A 4-inch ran came early Saturday. A downpour followed at night. Ten and a half-inch rain fell here supplemented by a 16-inch rain in the Moulton section. This was more than the Lavaca river could carry.

The first alarm was sounded shortly after 2 a.m., the second two hours later. But neither was taken seriously enough, for no one expected this calamity.

“Since 2:30 a.m. we were helping the people along the river to evacuate their homes,” says City Marshall Chapman. “Some refused to leave, some fell into hysterics and force had to be used in a few instances to get these people to safety.”

About a hundred families had to flee their homes before the rising water. Every store and house from the river up to the highway had to be evacuated.

“Several houses were seen floating down the stream beyond the reach of anyone,” reports Sheriff McElroy. “Cries could be heard in the darkness but nothing could be done.”

“The water rose some eight feet in the country jail but the prisoners were all safe on the upper floor,” Sheriff McElroy said.

By 5 a.m. the river was flooding the square. It was then the threatened section awakened to its danger. And it was highest time, the water rising rapidly. By seven it was reaching the highway. And shortly afterwards the water stood from 6 to 10 feet on the square, spreading several feet deep over the highway itself—something believed impossible. But what was thought could not, did happen here!

Volunteers Busy.

The stricken city rose quickly to this emergency. The common misfortune always bring the people closer together. Everywhere volunteers were busy. In the stores, the goods was removed from lower shelves. At the homes, the furniture was piled up higher. Women and children were led or carried away. The marooned cars were pulled into higher places. Even by the highway the flood was above everyone’s knees in places. Everywhere willing men, soaked to the skin, were helping. Nothing was neglected that a willing hand could do.

Fink’s hotel served free coffee to more than 150 flood workers.

Red Cross volunteer women served free lunches in the parish hall to the refugees day and night.

Eiler’s Creamery donated 50 quarts of milk for the purpose.

The people of Gonzales sent food and cash.

The Red Cross sent its help and radio stations called up asking what could be done, while they broadcasted Hallettsville’s calamity.

Withstood Flood Splendidly.

The city water and electric service withstood the flood splendidly. “Only the 6-inch main by the Lavaca bridge broke,” commented Supt. Skelton. “But the service was restored shortly. Outside of a brief interruption to the electric service, the city largely suffered no inconvenience in this, the biggest flood in its history.

Railroad Bridge Gone.

The Lavaca river railroad bridge here was washed out when struck by a floating house about 9 a.m. in the morning. Railroad service here will be tied up for many days. About 200 yards of the asphalt approach to the Lavaca river ridge here was completely washed away. About a hundred people here were rescued from house tops, some as they floated downstream. Reports from those who lived along the Rocky and other creeks stated that bridges were washed out in wholesale lots.

Although telephone service here was working most of the day a short wave radio set, stations W5HNF and W5IYF, operated by Bob Glover and E. S. Ladarge of Houston, kept this city in touch with the outside, and aided in bringing much needed help here.

Homes lost here in the flood were those of Mrs. Nick Kutach, Joe Stanzel, John Svab, John Svrcek, and many other houses occupied by Mexican and other families. Half of the houses in Hallettsville were either flooded or were damaged by water considerably.

Towns Sent Help.

Other communities, too, responded quickly. Yoakum sent two motor boats which saved many marooned people. Firemen and other help came from Weimar, El Camp, Wharton, Moulton, Schulenburg, Shiner, Beeville, Goose Creek, Houston, San Antonio, Seguin, Waelder, Austin, Camp Maybry at Austin, Edna, Luling and Columbus. They came fully equipped for the work.


People left homeless were housed and fed at the city hall, parish hall, high school and many in private homes. Day and night hundreds of men worked valiantly cleaning up the town. The Department of Public Safety at Austin sent a squad of patrolmen to keep order.

A Cover of Mud.

After reaching its highest peak around 9 a.m., the flood receded slowly until by 3 p.m. the square was free again of the water, which left a thick layer of slimy mud on everything it touched.

It rained almost till noon. Later on the sun came out smiling on the vengeance nature wrought because man allowed nature’s stream to fill up with his best soil.

Hallettsville Tribune, Tuesday, July 2, 1940


Sunday was a black day in this city’s history. Besides the property damage running into several thousand dollars, the flood left behind several dead.

The following were drowned when the flood waters, higher than ever, struck this city: 

Joe Stanzel, 70, his wife, 65, and daughter, 45.

Joe Svrcek, 70, and his wife, 65.

John Svab, 60.

The Stanzel’s were one of the oldest and most well-known families in this community. The flood struck them before they could leave their home near the river. All three perished when the house was swept away.

“Their cries could be plainly heard but it was too late to save them and they went down with their home,” said Dr. Harvey Renger whose residence, only a short distance away, was too flooded, several feet.

John Svab’s body was found first by Mrs. John Rothbauer in their backyard south of the bridge. This is not far from the place where Svab’s home stood.

“We heard Svab calling for help,” Bob Quitta said. “First Johnnie Stavinoha attempted to reach him. But when Johnnie got close to him, Svab jumped into the water and grasping a floating log went down the stream.

“Then Svab could be seen climbing a tree further down the stream, again calling for help. I tried to reach him but the current was too swift for swimming,” Bob says. Soon the tree top disappeared in the rising water and Svab was seen no more.

Stanzel’s daughter was found next, about 200 yards south of the Lavaca bridge. And later Joe Stanzel’s body was given up by the flood. It was found back of Mrs. Victoria Riley’s garage here.

The bodies of Svrcek and his wife, were found Monday morning, about two hundred yards south of the Lavaca bridge.

Mrs. Stanzel’s body was found until Monday morning near the county poor farm.

The body was found by Farley Turk. Only a foot was sticking out of the mud.

More Help Arrives

Monday morning salvaging work was in full swing. As searchers looked for more bodies reports of missing people were coming in and it was feared that throughout the country twenty-five or thirty lives may have been lost.

Soon after daybreak Monday morning NYA, WPA, CCC and Salvation Army help arrived.  All this help was greatly needed as hundreds are left homeless.  It was a pitiful scene here in Hallettsville Monday, with ambulances hauling dead bodies, merchants cleaning slush out of their stores and people looking for their belongings along the Lavaca river after the water receded.

No deaths were reported from the Navidad river section but many people were rescued from tree tops and homes were washed away. The Navidad rose two feet higher than the high of 1936, and is thought to have made an alltime new high.

The Stanzel funerals will be held at one time, at 2:15 Tuesday, July 2nd, at the Catholic church. The procession will leave the Kubena Funeral Home at 2 p.m.

Arrangements for the funerals of other flood victims have not been made as yet, and no time has been announced.

Hallettsville Tribune, Friday, July 5, 1940

7th Body Found Here Thursday

The body of Christina Svrcek, the seventh victim of the flood, was found Thursday morning about 10 a.m., by John Pineda, a Mexican, as he was walking near the washed out railroad bridge. The body was laying in the drift at the bridge. It was buried by the Kubena Funeral Home immediately after it was removed from the creek.

Identification of the body was difficult, but officials indentified it as the body of Miss Christina Svrcek.

All newspaper articles were contributed by Sandra Long Anders