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Texas churches open doors to evacuees

BY SUSAN KIM | SEGUIN, TX | August 23, 1999

SEGUIN, TX (Aug. 23, 1999) -- Remembering the floods that drove them

from their homes last year, Texans are helping the evacuees

threatened by Tropical Storm Bret.

As thousands of south Texas residents boarded up their homes and

headed inland, they got not only willing -- but experienced -- help

from churches, friends, family, and other shelters.

Hundreds of Bret's evacuees headed to Seguin, San Antonio, New

Braunfels, Victoria, Cuero -- all towns hard-hit by last year's

floods.

Faith Lutheran Church in Seguin housed 125 evacuees, as did several

other churches and the town's coliseum.

"People started arriving Sunday morning during worship, and they'll

probably be here through today," said the Rev. Bill Lang, a pastor at

Faith Lutheran Church.

"The people who were flooded out last year have been supervising

operations and volunteering to sit and talk with evacuees," he said.

Many people tending to Bret's evacuees are survivors of last October's severe floods that killed 31 people and left thousands homeless throughout

southwestern Texas.

That flooding caused 32 Texas counties to be declared disaster zones,

destroyed 2,733 structures, damaged 9,935 more, and caused $620.4

million in residential losses, along with $71.9 million in business

losses, and $239.9 million in public property losses.

People are still coping with that damage -- and, this week, with

their own anxiety about the heavy rains that are predicted. "Some of

the little ones were packing up their swing sets and toys, and some

people still get a little tense whenever it rains," said Eva

Tannehill, a case manager for Seguin Area Recovery, an interfaith

committee overseeing long-term flood recovery efforts.

Scores of people still aren't back in their homes after the October

floods, and Seguin Area Recovery is still collecting monetary

donations to purchase building materials.

One of the biggest remaining concerns is that retaining walls

destroyed during the October floods have not been rebuilt, leaving

people vulnerable to flooding this season. "I visited an elderly man

last week who lost the retaining wall in his back yard," said

Tannehill. "The river has been slowly tearing the land out from under

his house, and he won't have long before he loses his backyard, then

his house."

And, even though early damage assessments from Bret are low, tension is high.

"We weren't sure if Cuero would be hit or not," said Mary Heard,

director of DeWitt County Cares, Inc. another interfaith recovery

committee launched in the wake of the October floods. "But people

were housed temporarily in the nursing home, and some of those

residents were moved to the hospital. I've got my brother and

sister-in-law at my own house," she said.

Emergency response officials are still monitoring Bret, concerned

that it will hang over the Laredo area with high winds and torrential

rains. That's just the scenario that happened in the close-knit

border town of Del Rio, when Tropical Storm Charley hung over the

area, causing flash flooding that killed 15 people exactly a year ago

today.

Del Rio held a memorial service Saturday to mark the anniversary.

Town leaders and pastors organized the event as a planned time to

remember the flood that altered their town, to grieve for loved ones

they still miss, and to celebrate a future less vulnerable to

disaster.

While elsewhere in Texas, emergency management officials were

concerned that hurricane inactivity was lulling people into a false

sense of security, Del Rio is an exception. They are still observing

a Remembrance and Celebration Week, which began with the dedication,

and continues with bell-ringing services, a tree-planting day, a

children's drawing contest, and a publicly-declared Disaster

Awareness Day.

Today, especially, residents are warily watching the sky. "It's not

raining yet, here, but it's awfully gray," said the Rev. John

Feierabend, a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church who worked with Del Rio

Recovers, an interfaith committee that helped oversee the town's

recovery. "People here know it's always a possibility."

All summer, they have been keeping an eye on water in low-lying areas

that can quickly rise anytime it rains more than three inches.

Rick Luna, president of the Lion's Club in Del Rio, organized the

memorial service. He observed that even regular rains make people

tense. "But I think they're starting to realize now that Tropical

Storm Charley brought a really unusual circumstance. People are

starting to believe that maybe it won't happen again."

Tannenill added that, with news media riveted on Bret, people will

overlook people's needs in Texas that have been lingering since

October. "People are just now seeing cracks in their homes from

sinkholes that have been forming for months. But, since they've

cleared the debris from their yards and they put on a good face, a

lot of people think recovery is done. We could still use volunteers

to help rebuild homes and put up retaining walls."

Bret, which was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm as it

hit land, still threatens Laredo and surrounding regions with heavy

rain and wind. Weather forecasters reported 20 more inches of rain

could fall in south Texas. They also reported that the storm was

moving very slowly, making the threat of floods even more serious.

Weather forecasters are also watching Tropical Storm Cindy, along

with two other tropical disturbances in the Atlantic that could form

into tropical depressions this week.

Posted Aug. 23, 1999


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