Friday, May 29, 2015

The heart-warming response to the Wimberley Flood

Amid the tragedy of the Wimberley and San Marcos Flood are heart-warming stories of neighbors helping neighbors.
A week ago tonight, the heavens unleashed their fury over Central Texas, dropping an incredible amount of rain in one night and causing an almost unimaginable flash flood.

Central Texas has long been known as "Flash Flood Alley." The terrain and atmospheric conditions can allow enormous amounts of rain to fall in one place; the soil is generally shallow and rocky so cannot absorb much water; and the hilly terrain means as water runs off it can gain tremendous momentum.

Flash floods are nothing new for Central Texas. In 2007, Marble Falls received some 19 inches of rain in 6 hours. That's more than half the rainfall in a typical year. The rain was enough to fill Lake Travis beyond its capacity, leading to two months of flood-control operations on the lake dam. In 2010, heavy rains caused the Comal River in New Braunfels to flood nearby Schlitterbahn water park, filling rides with mud.

The Memorial weekend storm of 2015 was different though in that heavy rain fell over a relatively large area. Between 9 and 12.5 inches of rain was recorded at numerous Central Texas gauges, much of which fell in the watersheds for the Blanco and San Marcos rivers. With so much rainwater funneled into two normally peaceful rivers, the result was a monstrous flood. The Blanco River rose 17 feet in a half hour, and 33 feet in a 3-hour span, ultimately resulting in a 40-foot tall wall of water that scoured away everything in its path.

Highway 165 bridge across the Blanco River has been destroyed.

Interstate 35 in San Marcos under water

Pedernales Falls State Park is near my hometown, and one that my family and I have frequently visited. Ordinarily we would walk on the rocks and swim in the gently-flowing pools beneath the falls. After the flood though, the river was a monster. [This picture has been widely shared on the Internet, and I have been unable to find the original source to give due credit]

Pedernales Falls State Park

Raging rivers and damage from high water are common after a flood. A flash flood is an entirely different danger. Rapidly moving water can rip a house - ordinarily high above the water - off its foundation and send it down river.

The flood ripped a house off its foundation.

Amid the tragedy though are heart-warming stories, of the sort I have grown to expect in Central Texas.

Water rescue

And of course, sometimes there is nothing left but to go tubing down the road.

Tubing on the road

Central Texas has a long history of neighbors helping neighbors. After drought and wind conspired to fan a wildfire that burned 35,000 acres and 1,600 homes in Bastrop in 2011, the entire Central Texas community came together to help the victims rebuild. The same is proving true today.

Hundreds of residents have pitched in to help with search and rescue and cleanup efforts. In at least one case that I know of, a man whose sister was missing continued to search for others even after her body had been found.

McCoys Building Supplies, a long-time Texas stalwart and a business known for supporting the community, is offering discounted restoration supplies for those in need.

Sam's Club opened its doors to everyone, whether or not they held a membership.

Blue Moon Optical offered to replace prescription glasses and contacts at no cost.

Several area clinics offer free tetanus shots for cleanup volunteers and flood victims, as well as free first aid care for flood victims.

Many local churches are collecting and distributing shovels, wheelbarrows, drinking water, sunblock, diapers, and other necessities.

The county set up a system for neighbors to lend heavy equipment for use in cleanup. Texas has lots of tractors, bobcats, and dump trucks!

The City of San Marcos is maintaining a list of flood victim resource centers and relief services.

One of the coolest efforts I have seen is the Wimberley Flood Laundry Relief, a grass-roots relief effort. Many people lost their homes, and in many cases, the only personal belongings they have left are the clothes on their back. This volunteer effort collected cleaning supply donations and cash to operate washers, and in their first day washed a thousand pounds of dirty, muddy, nasty laundry. When the clothes on your back are your only remaining earthly possession, something as simple as a clean shirt (or a clean teddy bear) is a profound blessing.

Wimberley Flood Laundry Relief

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