City begins rebuilding process after May floods

Matthew Adams

May was the wettest month in Texas history, with 37.3 trillion gallons of water falling across the state. The worst of the deluge came Memorial Day weekend, and several local counties, faced with disastrous flooding, are now beginning an arduous rebuilding process.

According to The Austin American-Statesman’s latest report, 11 people died and 3 are still missing from the Memorial Day weekend floods.

The floods persuaded County Judge Sarah Eckhardt to issue a disaster declaration for Travis county, along with several other incorporated counties. Peter Baldwin, Travis County emergency management coordinator, said he hopes that declaration will elicit an increase in state and federal funding for disaster preparedness after inspections Thursday and Friday.

Debbie Bresette, president of United Way for Greater Austin, said the group’s 2-1-1 Navigation Center  provided health and human services Memorial Day weekend to help state and local services in mostly Blanco, Hays, Caldwell and some of Bastrop and Travis counties.

“We started an online campaign to raise money on the majority of recovery dollars,” Bresette said. “This includes housing and longer-term needs, such as clothes and things people need to go back to work.”

Bresette said volunteers and the United Way are helping to clean up houses, move furniture, get cleaning supplies for people and give discount prescription cards. Bresette stressed the need for still more volunteers, including students.

“If [students] want to help, they should get in touch with 2-1-1 to volunteer,” Bresette said.  “We have worked with retired vets and people who are differently able[d] who could not clean or move furniture, so the students help would be welcome.”

Within Austin, a large portion of the damage occurred when Shoal Creek flooded over its banks and put many parts of Lamar Boulevard under around 3 feet of water.

Holland Jones, manager of Whole Earth Provision on Lamar Boulevard, said the store has procedures to place sandbags along doors or windows and have a team monitoring weather conditions; however, this severity of flooding was more than the store had prepared for, and the store became flooded with over 3 feet of water.

“We had four major windows break, which let a current into the store that knocked over merchandise and brought in other debris,” Jones said. “When the water went down, those big broken display windows allowed for a lot of our merchandise to float out and down the creek.”

While dealing with lost merchandise and repairs, Jones said he appreciated people’s help and their kind gestures.     

“We had a lot of people show up that evening and the next day in work clothes ready to help us clean or do whatever to help,” Jones said. “We had people bring back armfuls of our merchandise back to us that they found in the creek.”    

Jones said the store will be closed two to three more months before the work is completed.

Ted Siff, president of the Shoal Creek Conservancy board, said work has gone on at the creek since the Memorial Day flood of 1981, but the changes did not provide much help, as this past weekend proved. Siff said he is excited to continue working with the Watershed Protection Department to develop plans but hopes citizens recognize the price to pay.

“Austin and citizens are going to have to realize whether it is local money, state money or federal money — someone will have to pay for this,” Siff said. “The question becomes: Is this level of risk we want it to be?  And the answer is no.”