High Waters: Questions at Onion Creek

Residents still frustrated six months after flood

City crews clean up debris after the Onion Creek flooding.
City crews clean up debris after the Onion Creek flooding. (Photo by John Anderson)

Frustrated and confused residents who live alongside Onion Creek in Southeast Austin – survivors of last fall's deadly Halloween flood – shouted out questions on Saturday when the floor was opened at the end of a press conference and public meeting commemorating the six-month anniversary of the flood.

"How much money are we going to get?"

"What are they going to base our property taxes on if we can't get in our houses?"

"Who do we contact?"

One woman said she had tried to call the city's hotline for flood victims seven different times, but "no one has done me the courtesy of calling me back."

Rosa Villegas, co-chair of the Travis Austin Recovery Group, which hosted last Saturday's outdoor event, and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, tried to calm the crowd and urged people to talk with them one-on-one. Villegas began the conversation by remembering the six people lost in the floods, discussing the extensive damage to the neighborhoods in the area, and acknowledging that there was much to do to reach full recovery. She announced that TARG will be doing a "flood community needs assess­ment" beginning May 9 and lasting until May 21. This in-depth survey, performed door-to-door and at Widen Elementary School, will itemize what needs to be done both within the larger neighborhood and at each individual home. According to Villegas, it will create statistical data about the damages and a complete database of cases so they will know where the problems remain.

After the initial speeches, a group quickly formed around Doggett. Barbara Benavides, a native Austinite and 40-year resident of the area, told him she had lost everything in the flood, and though her home is not yet completely repaired, she remains living there. She is waiting for her insurance company to send her another check. Benavides told Doggett that she wants "him to help people who need the help. We are not asking for a lot, just for help."

Kendel Joyce, whose home was just around the corner, said he's frustrated because, while TARG is doing what it can, residents are no closer to knowing if they should rebuild their homes. He described current permits as provisional, and said he fears putting money into rebuilding only to learn that he will have to elevate his home to meet the yet-unpublished new codes.

Laura Zamarripa has lived in the neighborhood with her parents for the last five years. Her parents have used their home insurance to repair the structure, but without additional relief, may not be able to replace tens of thousands of dollars of furnishings. She echoed commonly expressed fears about the creek. "I understand we are in a bowl. But why did all that water come so fast?"

Rosie Montiel, a 20-year resident, wants to know if anyone is going to clean up the creeks. "We made it this time, but we might get another flood. Next time, we might not make it."

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News, 2013 Halloween flooding, Rosa Villegas, Travis Austin Recovery Group, Kendel Joyce, Widen Elementary, Laura Zamarripa, Rosie Montiel, Lloyd Doggett, Barbara Benavides

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