Recovery Team Asks for Help as 'Disaster Fatigue' Affects Flood Rebuild

Family turned to Craigslist for help on their house but ended up with shoddy work, rendering the house unlivable.

by Elizabeth Findell, Austin American-Statesman / July 12, 2016
Volunteer Chad Hartsfield helps search along the Blanco River, Friday, May 29, 2015, in San Marcos, Texas. AP/Eric Gay

(TNS) - Senon Selgado’s family rode out floods before in their home near Texas' Blanco River, but Memorial Day weekend of 2015 was different. The water rose too high, too quickly. By the time his granddaughter and her children threw on their clothes and called 911, emergency workers had advised them to climb onto the roof.

But they couldn’t — not with Senon’s wife, Maria Isabel Selgado, in a wheelchair.

Tim and Elizabeth Darnell, neighbors and leaders of the nearby Hill Country Church, helped rescue the Selgados from the floodwaters. But the family is among hundreds who have been unable to rebuild since then, according to the Blanco River Regional Recovery Team, the nonprofit helping survivors of the May 2015 floods that killed 14 in Central Texas and left more than 2,100 Hays County homes damaged or destroyed.

The Selgados received $18,000 from FEMA and, desperate to find cheap fixes for a destroyed home, found a couple of guys on Craigslist to do tiling and roofing, they said.

The men did shoddy work that recovery construction experts don’t consider livable, said Chasity Villarreal, a disaster case manager who took over the Selgados’ case recently amid ongoing recovery efforts in Central Texas.

Authorities advised the family to file a complaint against the contractors, but the Selgados no longer have the documentation, which was lost in a second round of flooding in October.

Now the money’s gone and the family is living in a home where water leaks in when it rains. Maria Selgado’s health deteriorated steadily after escaping the home with injuries to her leg, her children said. She died a few weeks ago, just over a year after the flood.

Granddaughter Amy Magana said her youngest child still cries every time it rains.

Ongoing recovery

Only about 20 percent of flood victims have fully rebuilt, said Blanco River Regional Recovery Team Director Thomas Monahan. And finding money to help the rest will only get tougher as more time passes, he said.

He introduced members of the media to the Selgados and other families Monday in an effort to remind people of ongoing flood recovery efforts and raise money in a year of flooding and tornadoes statewide.

“There’s quite a bit of disaster fatigue, I think, in this state,” he said.

Some 2,700 people in Blanco, Hays, Caldwell and Guadalupe counties filed claims with FEMA after the May 2015 floods, and 1,627 reached out to the Blanco River Regional Recovery Team for help. Many were able to clean up and move back, only to be flooded out again in October.

Each agency received more than 700 new requests for help after the October flood.

Since then, the Blanco team has completely rebuilt or replaced 50 homes, done lesser repairs at 130 and removed debris from 500 properties. About 40 homes have repairs underway. Volunteers have come from as far as Florida, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Alabama to help.

The Blanco team tries to prepare for future flooding when possible in making repairs, but it’s generally too expensive to raise a whole house, Monahan said. In only a couple of cases have repairs meant elevating a home.

People helped

High school students from Highlands Ranch, Colo., scraped, taped and painted a house on Sherbarb Drive on Monday.

The group of 39 teenagers from Christ Lutheran Church is the most recent to join the Central Texas flood recovery effort. The teens will spend a week working on five different projects.

The Sherbarb Drive house, where Larry and Lupe Villanueva have lived for 35 years, wasn’t damaged as badly as some. Water breached only one room, formerly a garage, damaging appliances there and ruining carpeting and exterior walls.

Around the corner on Barbara Drive, ask Ignacio Salazar how high the water came last year, and he’ll hold his hand alongside his leg, a couple of feet up the wall of his home. He and his wife, Rosa Maria Salazar, have lived there 30 years. Before last year’s flooding, they had seen water breach the house just one time, some 16 years ago.

This time, after water filled every room in May and October, much of the house was a loss.

“I would cry, and I would call my wife,” Ignacio Salazar said. “She’d tell me, ‘Don’t cry.’ But we lost everything.”

The couple were homeless for about eight months. Most of that time they spent living with a friend, Molly Rosas, who recalled watching Ignacio Salazar struggle with his health after the flood.

Then the Salazars received help from Christian Aid Ministries, FEMA and the Blanco team in repairing walls, floors and other home features.

There are some things they’ll never get back, like destroyed family photos. But the couple said at least they’re home now.

How to help

The Blanco River Regional Recovery Team is requesting donations to continue flood rebuilding. They can be made online at www.BR3T.org or via any Texas branch of Wells Fargo.

People interested in volunteering or donating building materials can email BR3Tvolunteers@gmail.org

By the numbers

1,627 — People in Blanco, Hays, Caldwell and Guadalupe counties who contacted the Blanco River Regional Recovery Team for help after the May 2015 flood.

316 — People whose homes had been destroyed in May 2015. Another 180 had heavy damage.

705 — People who needed help after the October 2015 flood, including 133 with destroyed homes and 220 more with major damage.

20,000 — Volunteer hours given through the recovery team in the past year in Blanco, Hays, Caldwell and Guadalupe counties.

Source: Blanco River Regional Recovery Team

———

©2016 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.