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Texas town begins rebuilding program

BY SUSAN KIM | DEL RIO, Tx | October 6, 1998

DEL RIO, Tx (Oct. 6, 1998) -- At Noon last Saturday -- a full seven

weeks after flash flooding devastated this Texas border town -- Red Cross

workers celebrated a small victory: Del Rio was on its feet enough for them

to stop serving three meals a day, and instead circulate canteens with

juice and fresh water throughout the community.

"Usually, in a disaster of this magnitude, continuous food needs last

about three weeks," said Jane Pratt, manager of the Del Rio Service Center.

"But in Del Rio, we served more than 200,000 meals for seven weeks."

Other organizations, including the Salvation Army, Baptist Men's

Convention, and a myriad of faith-based groups, also report serving 200,000

or more meals since the disaster.

The August 23-24 floods, which occurred when Tropical Storm Charley

dumped about 20 inches of rain in the area, caused $34.5 million in damages

in the already economically troubled community. Raging waters killed nine

residents, and six more are missing and presumed dead.

As residents mourn loved ones, they also are contending with undrinkable

water, condemned homes, and a lack of building materials and skilled

volunteers to help rebuild homes that are salvageable.

More than 100,000 gallons of bottled water are shipped to the area daily

and stored in tankers at grocery stores and other distribution areas.

Eighty-seven Del Rio families have been placed in manufactured homes

funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with nearly 115

more families on the waiting list.

Almost 2,000 families sustained damages to their homes severe enough to

be eligible for maximum FEMA grants of $13,400 each to rebuild. More than

one-third of these families will have needs that the government can't meet.

Damage assessors estimate that recovery efforts here will span more than

two years.

Many people housed in FEMA-funded homes or in apartments say they feel

isolated from their tight-knit community of 34,000 people. Many are

frustrated with waiting for help, and uncertain about their future.

Many are also anxious about family members and friends that live in

Ciudad Acuņa, Del Rio's sister city just across the Mexican border, which

was also damaged during the floods. Many are still angry about losing

possessions when looters hit their neighborhood after the storm.

"We had one church member who sat on her couch with a gun the whole

night after the floods," said Sharon Fuller, a member of the First United

Methodist Church in Del Rio.

Amid such dark feelings, an interfaith disaster response entity is

uniting the many organizations that want to help.

Del Rio Recovers is coordinating the efforts of Mennonite Disaster

Services, Lutheran Disaster Response, Christian Reformed World Relief

Committee, Church World Services, United Methodist Committee on Relief,

United Methodist Men, Catholic Social Services, Lion's Club, Rotary Club,

Red Cross, Salvation Army, state and city agencies, and local churches.

Rebuilding efforts are beginning now that immediate needs are being met.

"Right now we desperately need building materials and we need skilled

volunteers," said Myrna Salinas, volunteer coordinator for Del Rio


"There were 600 families on the waiting list for housing before the

flood. We already had so many people who were precariously housed. Now we

need plumbers, sheetrockers, carpenters, woodworkers, roofers, framers,

tilesetters. We need other volunteers, too, because everyone can help with


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

also needs volunteer translators, said Salinas.

The Rev. Gary Martin, pastor at Iglesia Luterana Cristo el Salvador,

said that perceived language barriers should not make volunteers afraid to

reach out. "It's not too difficult to understand the needs, and anyway

there is usually someone around who speaks both Spanish and English."

There are many ways besides words to communicate during a disaster

recovery situation, said David Barnhart, disaster consultant with

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. "You can speak to each other through

work, through songs and music," he said.

Norman Hein, disaster consultant for the Church World Service, said that

Del Rio is a community that knows how to work together. "We will need

volunteer crews in this area for the next 12-18 months," he said. "I want

people to think about volunteering during their spring break this year. Or,

what about over the winter holiday? Rather than giving gifts to each other,

why not give a gift to this community?"

Volunteer teams from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee

(CRWRC) have been offering assistance in Del Rio, said Bev Abma, CRWRC

disaster response administrator.

CRWRC received a timely donation the week before the Del Rio disaster --

a 37-foot trailer and Suburban truck from the Vermeer Foundation, a

machinery manufacturing company based in Iowa.

Within seven days, the rig was put to the test when it housed seven men

who spent four weeks "mudding out" homes and cleaning up property in Del

Rio. "We found that you can coordinate volunteers with many different

skills, as long as you have one leader who knows how the disaster recovery

process works," said Abma.

Meanwhile, across the border, needs are still being assessed in Acuņa.

While that community bore less structural damage, it is difficult to get

food and essential life necessities into the hands of people in need.

Disaster response organizations and the Red Cross are still organizing

response efforts in that area.

Posted Oct. 6, 1998

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