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National

Texas Ranchers Scramble To Get Cattle Out Of Flooded Areas

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There are thousands of cattle ranches in the part of Texas being pounded by Tropical Storm Harvey. Ranchers have been scrambling since the weekend to get their cattle to higher ground. Rachel Cutrer and her family own about 2,000 head of cattle on their V8 Ranch in Brazoria County, about 45 miles southwest of Houston.

RACHEL CUTRER: The last two days, our cowboy crew has been working horseback to move the cattle, getting the cattle as far as they can onto higher ground, into a place where they're sheltered. These horses are swimming, you know, in water up to their knees or no higher than their bellies.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When we reached Cutrer yesterday, she said her whole family is involved in the rescue effort.

CUTRER: My grandfather is 84 years old. Actually, today is his 85th birthday, and he's out in the storm. He's been out there working for the past two days, pretty much nonstop, with members of our family, and the cowboys that work on our ranch and also some local friends who have pitched in to help.

CHANG: At times, she says, things got a little hairy.

CUTRER: They had moved a set of cattle to a new pasture, and when they got there, it had already flooded. So they had to turn back around and go to plan B. But the cowboys working on the crew, and my father and grandfather, they are very experienced cattlemen. And they also have very strong faith, and they believe that they're going to be protected. And they're willing to do whatever it takes to care for our cattle.

MARTIN: Dinah Weil is another rancher in the area. She's at HK Cattle in Rosharon, Texas. It's a smaller operation near the Brazos River with a few hundred red Brahman cattle. They had time to get some of them out.

DINAH WEIL: But the water came so quickly that we weren't able to evacuate more cattle, so we just gave them a lot of hay and feed. And now we're probably in a praying position. But they are very intelligent, and they will seek the highest land. They'll be OK if the waters don't come over their heads, basically.

CHANG: As we spoke to her, the rain continued to pound down. And Weil recounted past floods in 1991, in '95, and then back-to-back in 2015 and 2016.

WEIL: ...And now this one. It's unprecedented to have three years in a row. I'm afraid, when the Brazos River peaks, it's going to be so full of water from all the rains, and it'll endanger the cattle. We didn't lose any cattle in the flood of 2016. And we were evacuated, but we drove on every day with a military truck. We were able to give them sustenance, and watch them and check them.

This time, the unknown is how much water the Brazos is going to empty because it's so full from the water north of us, besides what we've already had. We've never had the water we have now before the Brazos opened up on us. It's just - it's a double whammy.

MARTIN: This time, Weil says, her operation could lose millions, but she won't know until they can get back onto the ranch. Dana Weil - she's one of the many ranchers trying to save cattle as Tropical Storm Harvey pours down on the region.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAX TAILOR FEAT. IDIL SONG "FOR THE WORST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.