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Del Rio rebuilds one house at time

BY SUSAN KIM | DEL RIO, TX | December 7, 1998

DEL RIO, TX (Dec. 7, 1998) -- The national media has long-since stopped

spotlighting Del Rio's flood damage -- the local disaster here has been

eclipsed by a larger tragedy caused by Hurricane Mitch in Central America.

But nearly every day, Del Rio residents learn in the local press about

another flood-related victory

or loss -- families moving back into their homes, long-time residents just

learning their homes will be demolished, volunteers traveling from across the

country to help this economically troubled, tight-knit community.

Severe flooding, that occurred in August when Tropical Storm Charley dumped

20 inches of rain in the area, killed 15 people and caused $34.5 million in

damages.

Nearly 2,000 families sustained home damage severe enough to be eligible for

maximum Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants of $13,400 each to

rebuild. But more than one-third of the families already have needs that the

government can't meet. Long-term recovery efforts here will likely span more

than two years.

For two months after the flood, the people of Del Rio shouldered the

burden of

undrinkable water, condemned homes, and a lack of skilled volunteers. Now,

they say their optimism is returning.

"On Thanksgiving Day, both town newspapers ran spreads about the first

families back in their homes," said Jane Pratt, manager of the Del Rio Red

Cross Service Center. "But, on the other hand, this week -- right before the

holidays -- many families are just now learning that their homes will be

purchased through a city buy-out and demolished."

From residents still mourning lost loved ones, to those trying to interpret

FEMA regulations, to those wondering how to rebuild homes from the ground up,

there is a group that can help -- Del Rio Recovers, an interfaith organization

that has united churches, agencies, community organizations, and local

businesses.

"There were organizations I never even knew existed in Del Rio until they

joined Del Rio Recovers," said Pratt.

Members of Del Rio Recovers talk in terms of how many days it's been

since the flood, often beginning their weekly meetings with the exact

count: "It's Day 102 -- where are we?"

Del Rio Recovers has documented 121 flood survivors who have registered for

assistance the government can't provide. Of those cases, 77 are still open,

meaning people still need anything from furniture to mental health counseling

to building materials so they can start anew.

John Molina, field coordinator for Del Rio Recovers, said that volunteer

work teams have already repaired 18 homes. "They did such a good job that

you can walk into these homes and never know a flood happened," he said.

"But there

are still many homes that will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. A lot of

these belong to first-generation Hispanics, many of them elderly, who don't

know the FEMA procedures."

Volunteers from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC),

Mennonite Disaster Services, Baptist Church, United Methodist Committee on

Relief, and many local churches have traveled from across the nation to lend a

hand.

Sharon Fuller, a member of First United Methodist Church, has been

helping to coordinate volunteer efforts. "We've got snowbirds coming in

January. We've

got spring break completely booked. We've got a hundred youths coming in

June. And we've just installed four new showers here at the church so we

can better accommodate people."

As volunteer lists grow, the need for building materials increases. "Del Rio

is at the stage of long-term reconstruction," said Bev Abma, CRWRC disaster

response administrator. "The interfaith group will have to tap resources for

building materials."

Since many residents in Del Rio speak only Spanish, Del Rio Recovers also

needs volunteer translators.

Eighty-six families are currently living in FEMA-issued manufactured homes,

with another 100 homes being added this week. The dwellings, which are

situated just outside of town in a subdivision called Westwinds, are temporary

homes in which families can live for 18 months. The city is providing trolleys

which make regular runs to grocery stores, pharmacies, and other locations,

and the Red Cross continues to take food boxes to that community as well.

Though the frustrations of flood recovery are still present, people's

spirits are better than they were, said Molina. "When we first started, we

had a lot of depression, but now we have more constructive questions on how

to take the next step. When we go out to worksites and see the hope on

people's faces,

that's very satisfying. That's the best part of our job."

"Our ultimate goal is to bring Del Rio's residents back to their former

standard of living -- maybe not 100 percent -- but close."

Local churches are also responding to flood damage in Acuņa, Del Rio's

sister

city just across the Mexican border. Partnerships pairing Mexican churches

with nearby American churches and other organizations have helped cut through

red tape that was preventing donations from getting into the hands of those in

need.

American partners from churches and community organizations like the Lion's

Club are collecting donated funds, then working with their Mexican

counterparts to buy supplies in Mexico, rather than shipping goods across the

border.

Posted Dec. 7, 1998


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