TX response efforts concentrate on people

BY GEORGE PIPER | DEL RIO, TEXAS | September 2, 1998

DEL RIO, TEXAS (September 2, 1998) -- Receding water from the overflowing San Felipe Creek has not washed away

the shock and disbelief from the faces of Del Rio, Texas.

The west Texas city of 34,000 is recovering from its worst flooding in

53 years after Tropical Storm Charley dumped heavy rains in the area on

Aug. 23 and 24. Raging waters damaged or destroyed at least 937 homes and

left 14 area residents dead. Another 22 are still missing.

"I still see some of the faces. Anybody who has been through a war disaster

and you see the people wandering around in a daze, to me that's what it

looks like," the Rev. John Feierabend of Del Rio's Grace Lutheran Church

said Sunday.

Del Rio, Spanish for "of the river" faced the brunt of Tropical Storm

Charley's backlash. Torrential rains stretched across 400 miles of rugged

Texas landscape from the Gulf of Mexico to the Rio Grande with

accumulations reaching 20 inches in areas. Flash flood warnings were issued

the morning of Aug. 23, and National Weather Service officials recommended

evacuations from low-lying areas later that day.

News from surrounding communities wasn't good either. The Mexican border

town of Ciudad AcuŅa, across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, lost nearly 3,000

homes. Other Texas towns also sustained flood damage. Tropical Storm

Charley is blamed for 19 deaths in all.

The flooding in Texas comes on the heels of a four-month drought that saw

temperatures soar to more than 100 degrees for 36 days.

Initial interfaith relief efforts are centered on Del Rio, located 148

miles west of San Antonio, Texas. The Bethel Center of Vel Verde Inc., an

ecumenical community relief agency comprised of 16 congregations, is focusing

efforts where flood loss is most severe, said Feierabend, who is also the

organization's president.

The AGB Corp., a regional grocery store chain, donated use of an old

grocery store where the Adventist Community Services (ACS) is directing

volunteers who are distributing food and clothing. The Southern Baptist

Conference (SBC) has prepared more than 24,000 meals so far for people

living in temporary housing. A few hundred people remain housed at the Del

Rio Civic Center, down from around 4,000 earlier in the week.

One problem with recovery, reports Norm Hein, regional disaster facilitator

for Church World Service and director of Lutheran Social Services of Texas,

is that about two-thirds of the 900 damaged homes belong to low and very

low-income families. He doubts that many of the people will qualify for

low-interest loans or be able to rebuild with Federal Emergency Management

Agency (FEMA) grants.

"The poor were poor to begin with, and now they have nothing,"

Feierabend said.

The city established a materials donation center (830-775-3551) and

volunteers can call Myrna Salinas at 830-774-8603 Hein said.

The community especially needs building materials, such as plywood, sheet

rock, shingles, and other roofing materials. Volunteers also can register

by calling that number.

A meeting with interfaith organizations is scheduled Sept. 3 to discuss

setting up a permanent interfaith recovery organization. Feierabend said

Grace Lutheran Church, which also is working with Church World Services

(CWS) and Lutheran Social Services (LSS), will also meet as a congregation

to formulate relief efforts.

"It's not just meeting the immediate needs," he said. "It's planning for

months down the road when the major relief organizations are no longer


The Southwest Texas Conference of United Methodist Churches is hosting a

training seminar so people can help children deal with the emotional

consequences of the flood, said the Rev. Bill Harris of the First United

Methodist Church of Del Rio. The American Red Cross also is training

volunteers on disaster relief methods, he added.

United Methodist churches throughout Texas have supplied Del Rio with

water, cleaning supplies and money to aid relief efforts, Harris said. The

United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) also sent a contingent from

Louisiana bearing supplies, generators and cash.

The 116-year-old church missed out on flood damage, but Harris said that

doesn't mean his congregation didn't feel its impact.

"There was not a person in worship today that has not been affected by this

disaster," he said. "We all felt the burden of our sisters and brothers in

our community, and with God's help would carry it through as people of


Updated September 2, 1998

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