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Del Rio still rebuilding from last year's flood

BY SUSAN KIM | DEL RIO, Tex. | June 18, 1999

DEL RIO, Tex. (June 18, 1999) -- Remembering the victims and celebrating

the future, Del Rio is marking one year since a tragic flood killed 15

people and displaced hundreds of others in this close-knit border town.

People are also keeping an eye on water that quickly rose foot-deep last

week in low-lying areas when nearly three inches of rain fell. "But lately

it dissipates quick as it rises. So - at least for now - we're still

concentrating on recovering from last year," said the Rev. John Feierabend,

pastor at Grace Lutheran Church who helped lead the flood response effort

through an interfaith team called Del Rio Recovers.

In their focus on recovery, town leaders and pastors are addressing an

often unstated but important need: planned time to remember, as a town, the

flood that altered their lives, to grieve for loved ones they still miss,

and to celebrate a future less vulnerable to disaster.

A Remembrance and Celebration Week, scheduled August 21-28, will include

the dedication of a memorial statue and time capsule in the city park,

memorial and bell-ringing services, a tree-planting day, a children's

drawing contest, and a publicly-declared Disaster Awareness Day.

"Throughout the week, people can talk about where they were on August 23

last year [when the flood struck], and where they are now," said Rick Luna,

president of the local Lion's Club and chairman of a planning committee

that includes other community and church leaders.

What people remember is painful: $34.5 million in damages, nearly 2,000

families with home damage severe enough to be eligible for maximum Federal

Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants, two months of enduring

undrinkable water, condemned homes, and a lack of skilled volunteers before

recovery could even begin.

For seven weeks after the flood, the Red Cross housed hundreds of families

in shelters, and the Salvation Army and Baptist Men's Convention served

more than 200,000 meals.

But now many people expect better times. Through a $4.3 million government

buy-out program, the city has started to relocate homes to safer ground.

Though people are still living in trailers that FEMA turned over to the

Housing Authority, they are glad to see progress. "For the most part people

have been waiting anxiously for this," said Feierabend. "No, it's not going

to solve everyone's problem, but it sure will make life better for people

who would have to live close to the creek, having nightmares every time it

rains."

Initiation of the buy-out program marks the end of one recovery phase and

the start of another. Until this summer, Del Rio Recovers handled most of

this community's unmet need. Now an Unmet Needs Committee comprising city

leaders and some original members of Del Rio Recovers will organize ongoing

response.

Leaders of Del Rio Recovers can look back with pride: they helped more than

300 families rebuild, cope, and go on. "This is a positive change for Del

Rio, because it puts long-term recovery into an agency that's going to be

around for the long haul," said Norman Hein, a disaster response consultant

from Church World Service who helped form Del Rio Recovers. The group's

remaining money will stay in a trust fund to be distributed on an as-needed

basis, and the computers have already gone to a place where recovery is in

a quite different stage: Oklahoma.

Del Rio Recovers united many organizations, including the Convoy of Hope,

HonorBound, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, Mennonite

Disaster Services, Lutheran Disaster Response, Christian Reformed World

Relief Committee, Church World Service, United Methodist Committee on

Relief, United Methodist Men, Catholic Social Services, Presbyterian

Disaster Assistance, Lion's Club, Rotary Club, Red Cross, Salvation Army,

state and city agencies, and local churches. Many are sending volunteer

teams again this summer.

Even after recovery is deemed 'complete' -- which could take another two

years or more -- the spirit of helping one another will likely go on. The

Rev. Gary Martin, pastor at the Iglesia Luterana Cristo el Salvador,

modestly calls his church's efforts "a tiny piece" of the recovery. "But

this community has so many people below the poverty line that we must

constantly help meet each other's physical and spiritual needs," he said.

Martin's church, through a partnership with the Orphan Grain Train,

receives shipments of potatoes from Wisconsin which he distributes within

Del Rio, then to pastors from Mexico to take across the border. "Providing

these kinds of staples is part of our regular routine," he said.

It is also now routine to see volunteer teams working alongside residents

on Del Rio homes. The First United Methodist Church will host a team every

week this summer. As church member Sharon Fuller said, "it's wall-to-wall

people helping people."

Feierabend added that, no matter what, "we just keep going. Some people are

being relocated. Some are rebuilding. Some are buying. But whatever we do,

we just keep going."

Posted June 18, 1999


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