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Relief efforts making progress after flood


DEL RIO, Tx (Oct. 1, 1998) -- Bottled water is still being handed out to

local residents, more than a month after a devastating flash flood killed

as many as 15 people here.

The late August flood nearly wiped out the historic San Felipe area of

the city and caused more than $34.5 million in damages. Nine residents were

killed and six more are missing and presumed dead.

It is the worst flood to strike this west Texas city of 34,000 in more

than 50 years. 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


A new response organization is moving ahead with plans to rebuild the

flood-ravaged neighborhoods, but officials caution it will take time to

restore the community.

"The disaster has passed, but the rebuilding is just in its infancy and

is going to take a long time,"Beth Eby, Del Rio's city manager, told the

San Antonio Express, this week.

The water problems that are continuing to plague the city are caused by

dirt, not bacteria, and city officials are hoping they will not have to go

to the expense of replacing the entire filtration system.

As the concentrated disaster response effort in Del Rio entered its

second month, the Texas community has begun the long process of recovering


deadly floods 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


In September, 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.

More than a third of the 2,000 families affected by the floods are

expected to have long-term needs that government assistance will not meet.

To help meet this need, the new long-term recovery organization is

developing a "Friends" program to recruit and train individuals from local

congregations who will adopt families and help identify government and

other assistance available.

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.

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

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.

Christian Reform World Relief Committee (CRWRC) has sent a work team to

Del Rio.

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

and distributing water. 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." -- George Piper contributed to this story.

Updated Oct. 1, 1998

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