'Neighborhood was underwater'

Hands of Hope Interfaith Ministries is helping residents in Falfurrias, Texas, recover from fierce storms.

BY HEATHER MOYER | FALFURRIAS, Texas | April 27, 2004

"The roofs we're having to fix are the old wooden shingle type - the hail just punched right through."

—Susana Martinez

Hands of Hope Interfaith Ministries is not only helping residents in Falfurrias, Texas, recover from fierce storms earlier this month they're also having to clean up their own office.

Hail as large as lemons pummeled the First United Methodist Church, which houses the interfaith office. Almost every window in the church was broken, destroying some of the interfaith group's equipment. "I'm hoping things will be cleaned by the time up by the time our volunteer repair teams arrive in mid-May," said Susana Martinez, office manager for Hands and Hope.

Martinez said the damage in her office is just the beginning, as the small town of 6,000 suffered significant damage from both hail and floodwaters. "I don't have an exact count now of how many homes were damaged, but I know the initial count of 250 was way too low," she said. "One neighborhood was underwater for four days."

Yet the damages in Falfurrias weren't costly enough to warrant them a state or federal emergency declaration. "Money is tight," said Martinez. "We're helping many people who had no insurance but had significant damages to windows and their roofs. Roofs run about $1,700 each to fix and we have 54 homes that need serious roof repair - so we need some help."

Brooks County was unable to offer any funds to Falfurrias, but Martinez said she is seeking state funds. She's also asking various religious organizations for monetary assistance. In the meantime, she said that the local churches work very well together and she's even getting the nearby lumberyard to give her price breaks on roofing materials.

Martinez said the community is very poor, with many families living on less than $8,000 a year. This is another reason so much siding and so many roofs are damaged - residents couldn't afford to upgrade to newer roofs that can withstand harsher weather.

"The roofs we're having to fix are the old wooden shingle type - the hail just punched right through it," said Martinez. "The siding is similar. Many of the homes still have the old asbestos siding and roofing, which will also cost more to dispose of."

She added most of Falfurrias' residents are elderly and cannot do many of cleanup or repair tasks on their own.

"This is one of those 'non-declared' disasters because these homes aren't highly-valued," said Don Jones, disaster recovery coordinator for the Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. "Yet these are the kinds of people we should be taking care of."

Volunteer help is on the way come mid-May. Work teams from the Mission Presbytery in San Antonio and Christ United Methodist Church in Plano will arrive on May 19 to start fixing roofs.

"This is a great opportunity for an ecumenical response," said Tary Snyder, disaster response coordinator for Mission Presbytery. Snyder's work team has done numerous disaster recovery trips and he says they're very knowledgeable about roofing and drywall. The May trip to Falfurrias is a chance to help teach the newly trained Plano team about construction, said Snyder.

"And we could certainly use more volunteers, because lots of roofs need fixing," said Snyder. "So we welcome anyone who wants to come."

Martinez said through the recovery efforts, the Falfurrias community is slowly coming together - and persistence pays off. "Everyone is working together a little better now, and maybe that's because I bug them all the time," she laughed.

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