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Clean-up efforts begin following Tx floods

BY GEORGE PIPER | WHARTON, Tx | October 23, 1998

WHARTON, Tx (Oct. 23, 1998) -- As flood waters from the Colorado River

rushed through this southern Texas town early Friday, residents here became

only the latest of more than 14,000 people to flee their homes in the face

of a week of devastating floods.

According to local officials, the water caused major damage to about 800

homes and many residents were still in shelters. "It'll be days before they

get back into some of their houses," said Andy Kirkland, Wharton County

Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Kirkland.

While the Wharton area was still watching flood water swirl around its

homes, some of the residents of Seguin, near San Antonio, were busy

removing mud from their homes. Local volunteers are expected to be out in

force this weekend to help survivors begin to put their lives back together.

In the Seguin area, the Guadalupe County Ministerial Alliance initially

plans to meet three times a week to focus on emerging needs and

opportunities. The Rev. Bill Shupe, a Lutheran minister from nearby

flood-free Kingsbury, will serve as a local coordinator to bring together

efforts of local congregations and agencies.

Another organization, named Seguin Area Emergency Assistance, has been

established to receive funds and plan long-term recovery projects. Retired

United Methodist minister Charles Laing is leading that effort.

Additional meetings with local faith-based groups are scheduled for Comal

County at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in New Braunfels on Tuesday and for

the Victoria area on Wednesday at the First Presbyterian Church in


National faith-based organizations also are responding. Lutheran Disaster

Response (LDR) distributed $52,000 in start-up relief checks this week to

Southwestern Texas Synod congregations hit by flooding. Representatives of

Church World Service's (CWS) constituent denominations will discuss the

flood situation and a possible appeal in a telephone conference early next


Adventist Community Services (ACS) is distributing relief supplies in

New Braunfels and Seguin as well as in several San Antonio communities. On

Monday and Tuesday ACS had provided food, clothing, cleaning supplies and

personal hygiene items to more than 1,300 people.

United Methodist Bishop Ray Owen was scheduled Saturday to visit flood

survivors in Cuero, Gonzales, LaVernia, Seguin and Victoria. In his tour,

the second of the week, he is expected to meet with families who live along

the Guadalupe River and Cibolo Creek. It was the second visit to the area

for the UMC bishop.

Seguin residents who avoided the flood are pitching in to help disaster

survivors by doing everything from cleaning homes to just listening to

flood stories, said the Rev. Bill Lange, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church.

State Emergency Management officials said that as many as 14,000 persons

had to leave their homes as flood waters threatened. More than 1,500 people

were still in shelters on Friday.

The Guadalupe River is back within its banks and flowing deep green in

New Braunfels, said the Rev. Charles DeHaven of St. Paul's Lutheran Church.

But downed trees, parts of homes and other effects of the flood's power

scar the landscape.

"Our churches are geared for disaster relief in a big way," said

DeHaven, adding that former New Braunfels' residents are returning to aid

the recovery. . . "That's the thing we're experiencing here."

At a funeral on Monday, DeHaven told the estimated 500 in attendance

that it takes a storm to have a rainbow, and he predicts several rainbows

occurring from this disaster. "These people here are not going to stay down

long, and they're going to learn from this," he said, adding that the faith

community must fulfill its role to provide spiritual, emotional and

financial help in this crisis.

In Cuero, where up to two-thirds of the city was under water, churches

are providing shelter and are working to get food and other supplies to

residents, said the Rev. Glenn Robertson, pastor at the First Baptist


He predicts a major rebuilding effort in Cuero, especially for

low-income people who lost their homes. DeWitt County has an estimated

1,000 homes destroyed, including 300 in Cuero alone. "It's a slow process

getting them back into their homes," Robertson said. "We're still just

trying to put the pieces together."

On Sunday evening, the ecumenical Peace Center of San Antonio has

announced that it will hold a prayer vigil for the 29 flood victims.

Churches in Gonzales are working independently and with the Gonzales

Crisis Assistance Ministry are administering aid in the form of food,

clothing and cleanup kits for its drenched residents.

"We're still quite upset about the whole thing," said Phyllis Oncken, a

secretary at the First United Methodist Church of Gonzales. "There were so

many places that were flooded that have never been flooded before."

Church members headed to the Rivercrest neighborhood on the city's south

side on Sunday morning to help residents move furniture to higher ground,

said Oncken. The efforts proved in vain in some case as water either moved

structures off foundations or covered them completely.

The story was much the same in Victoria on Monday night when the

Guadalupe River left its banks and fire and emergency management officials

began rescuing residents from flooded areas.

The southeast Texas city of 62,000 as the last major population area

between the swollen river as it sloshed its way toward the Gulf of Mexico.

The city's worst previous flood was on July 3, 1936, when the Guadalupe

rose to 31.4 feet.

Salvation Army representatives in Victoria opened a shelter and mobile

food canteens for flood survivors, said Maj. Wilma Harwell. The

organization's shelter can hold more than 100 people, and she noted two

other churches also are serving as shelters.

Acting on a request by Texas Gov. George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton

has declared 25 counties in the state as a disaster area. The state already has

two disaster areas in Del Rio and Houston as a result of tropical storms

Charley and Frances.

San Antonio reported its wettest month ever, while the Guadalupe County

Sheriff's Department estimates that hundreds of homes were washed from

foundations. Shelters across the area accommodated hundreds while emergency

officials used fire trucks, helicopters, boats and personal watercrafts to

rescue people.

Updated Oct. 24, 1998

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