'Del Rio Recovers' sets TX response

BY GEORGE PIPER | DEL RIO, Tx | September 19, 1998

DEL RIO, Tx (September 19, 1998) -- As the new community response organization

adopted plans for a major volunteer emphasis this week to help restore or

rebuild homes destroyed by flooding last month, new flash floods drove

residents back out of their homes.

Allowed back in their homes the following day, officials said they were

afraid heavy rains Thursday night would flood the community all over again.

It's that anxiety of potential destruction that makes it hard on storm

survivors, said Norman Hein, a regional facilitator for Church World


"That's what came through when I talked with the people of Del Rio: the

anxiety of being evacuated again," he said. "Fortunately nothing happened,

but (the previous flooding) is in the back of their minds."

As the concentrated disaster response effort in Del Rio entered its fifth

week, the Texas community has begun the long process ofrecovering from

deadly floods

last month brought by Tropical Storm Charley.

Bethel Center of Val Verde Inc., a local ecumenical community relief

agency, helped establish Del Rio Recovers, as part of a long-term recovery

strategy. Earlier this month, more than 50 people representing 14 denominations

and 22 congregations attended a meeting with government relief and local

health officials to discuss what assistance is available so that pastors

could report it back to their members.

"The response from the church community is just phenomenal here. It's a

cooperation and a sense of working together that I rarely see in

communities," said Hein.

The west Texas city of 34,000 is recovering from its worst flooding in 53

years after Tropical Storm Charley dumped about 20 inches of rain in the

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

homes and left 16 dead. Another 32 are still missing.

Hein, who has spent nearly four weeks shuttling between Del Rio and his

Austin, Texas, office, attributed prior assistance efforts and strong

feelings of community for the good teamwork.

Volunteers can call (830) 774-8603 to lend help for cleanup and repair.

Labor Day weekend, volunteers came for a "mud out," removing a

home's contents and cleaning up mud and debris left behind by rushing


CWS' Emergency Response Office issued an appeal for $100,000 to help with

unmet needs arising from Tropical Storm Charley, Hurricane Bonnie and other

fall storms.

Pastoral care and case management in Spanish and English is needed in Del

Rio as well as rebuilding and reconstruction in low-income areas. CWS has

already sent some 300 health and cleanup kits to Del Rio.

Recovery will extend past the coming winter, and Hein and others are urging

the "winter Texans" -- those who take winter vacations in the state -- to

volunteer for a week or two. The idea will be circulated among northern

U.S. churches.

"If we could get one-tenth of the winter Texans, we would have a marvelous

crew of people," Hein said.

Various sites, including church lots, are being designated as parking for

potential winter volunteers. Some will also provide electricity, water and

sewer connections for people traveling in campers or recreational vehicles.

LDR and LSS hope to bring volunteers via its Operation Can Do, a youth

program which targets school breaks as a time for young people to be

volunteers. Hein said the organization also has provided Bethel Center with

a computer system for accounting and word processing tasks.

Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS) is sending coordinators to inspect the

area, said MDS Region 3 Director Vernon Miller. The organization's

volunteers likely will be involved in cleanup and repair, he said.

Earlier in the month, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) sent a

semi-trailer load of cleaning materials, including pressure washers, flood

buckets and bleach, said Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's Disaster Response manager.

Further response will depend on a weekend needs assessment, he said, adding

that UMCOR is also focusing on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande,

including Ciudad Acuna near Del Rio and Nuevo Laredo near Laredo.

Christian Reform World Relief Committee (CRWRC) is sending a work crew from

Michigan and also is initiating a response to raise money for long term


The Salvation Army and American Red Cross are serving meals for volunteers

and distributing water. The city's water system still hasn't been declared

safe, and some 100,000 gallons daily are transported to Del Rio.

Working with these groups has been Grace Community Church. The

interdenominational church opened its facility, after floodwaters hit the


More than 100 volunteers staffed the makeshift shelter in Del Rio's largest

church. Through Thursday, the effort saw clothed and fed 195 families,

sheltered 26 families and distributed 1,000 pounds of clothing, three

pickup trucks of baby formula 2,000 gallons of water and 2,000 pounds of

canned food, said the Rev. Arnold Menchaca, an assistant pastor. The church

also is establishing a relief fund to help with unmet needs.

The flooding marked the first time Grace Community operated as a shelter.

The 600-member congregation has since developed a more organized disaster

plan if it's needed again.

Menchaca echoed Hein's comments about the community coming together. It's

an example of people just helping others in need.

"I believe that when people see a need, they leave their own personal need

on the side," he said. "They put aside their religious biases and come

together to help out everybody."

Updated September 19, 1998

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