Cleaning up, coming back
By LPR Staff
Work. Work. And Wait.
While search and recovery teams continue with the grueling process of recovering those who are still missing after the historic Memorial Weekend Floods, the residents of Caldwell County have begun the long, slow journey to “the new normal.”
More than 200 homes have been confirmed to have been da
maged, destroyed or otherwise affected by the wall of water that surged through the San Marcos River over Memorial Day Weekend, and the torrential rains that followed that week. According to Caldwell County Emergency Management Coordinator Martin Ritchey, reports continue to come about the impact and damage done, primarily in the Martindale area.
Meanwhile, though Governor Greg Abbott added Caldwell County to his statewide Disaster Declaration on May 25, Caldwell County is still waiting for confirmation from President Barack Obama regarding a Federal Disaster Declaration, which will trigger assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“We are continuing to do individual assessments, and Team Rubicon is doing detailed assessments based on FEMA and Small Business Administration (SBA) requirements,” Ritchey said. “As of today (Tuesday), we have an estimate of $4.8 million in damages, which puts us well above the guidelines for Federal Disaster Area.”
Meanwhile, there is little for the residents and business owners to do except clean up, and wait.
Although Caldwell County is not yet declared a federal disaster, affected residents can start applying for federal assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY). The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 6 a.m. – 9 p.m., seven days a week until further notice.
“We’ve had 400-500 volunteers register so far, and more are coming every day,” Ritchey said.
Of those, more than 150 have volunteered to comb the ravaged banks of the river for victims declared missing during the flood, including the three Corpus Christi residents who are still missing after their vacation home was ripped from its foundation in Wimberley as the flood waters rose.
One of the eight missing from that incident was found last week in Caldwell County.
Because there are still victims who have not been recovered, residents are urged not to burn the debris piles left on their property by the raging waters. Most debris fields, experts say, are more than sufficient to disguise the bodies of those still missing, including two small children.
“I can’t say enough about the volunteers, or about emergency services in what they’ve done here,” Ritchey said, referring not only to the flood surge, but also a tank battery fire, followed by the rains that compounded the flooding. “Any one of those three events would have been front-page headlines on their own, but the three, all together…”
Ritchey reported members of volunteer fire departments wearing swift water gear under their bunker gear, fighting the fire while they waited for reports of more people in need of rescue.
Caldwell County was fortunate not to see any loss of life during the Memorial Day Floods, but the damage is unmistakable.
In addition to the homes, belongings and lives left in upheaval after the flood, Caldwell County Extension Agent Michael Haynes reports that the county’s wheat crop is a total loss for this year.
“It looks like the cotton, sorghum and corn are still in good condition, for now,” he said. “We’ve had some reports of missing livestock, but not much along the line of confirmed losses.”
The US Department of Agriculture has guidelines separate from FEMA requirements to deal with agricultural losses as a result of the flooding. As of press time, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had not yet announced any available recovery plans for Texas agricultural flood losses.
While information continues to flow in about flood damages in Caldwell County, Ritchey estimates that cleanup will cost more than $1 million. To ensure that Caldwell County receives appropriate reimbursement once FEMA becomes involved, it is essential that both volunteers, and homeowners needing assistance register their names, volunteer hours, and needs.
Martindale Baptist Church is hosting a Volunteer Resource Center, matching teams of volunteers with homeowners with needs. The VRC continues to be open daily, until further notice.