Halloween Floods

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon for KUT

Austin City Council members are beginning to approve the last batch of homes in the Williamson Creek flood buyout program. But the strength of the Austin housing market means the entire process has become more expensive.


Ilana Panich-Linsman, KUT News

It was still dark the morning of Halloween 2013 when hundreds of families in Onion Creek, a neighborhood in South East Austin, woke up to rising water in their homes.

Bene Jacobs and her family survived the flood by taking refuge on their neighbor's roof.

She remembers that morning clearly.

Bene and her partner Lawrence waded through the waters with their three children in tow. Ten-year-old Isaac was in Lawrence's arms. Isaac was born with special needs. His wheelchair would have been swept by the fast moving waters. Alyssa was five at the time and Acelee, a toddler.

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Last Halloween at least 580 homes in Austin were damaged by floods in the Onion Creek area, causing nearly $30 million in property damage. So far, the city has purchased 116 properties that were either damaged by flood waters or are in danger of future flooding. 

By the end of the year, demolition contractors plan on knocking down 105 homes in the area. But what happens to all the leftover debris from those homes, and how long will the project take to complete? 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Update: Austin City Council member and mayoral candidate Mike Martinez is asking the city’s Public Safety Commission to consider recommending an independent review of city response to the deadly Halloween flooding.

A report done by city staff highlighted more than 100 response problems, including communication issues between agencies and with the general public. Read more about the findings in the original story below.

In emails to the commission, Martinez requests the group consider calling for an independent review. Martinez also finds fault with the framing of the city's report, writing "My general impression is that the failures and opportunities are large, and the successes are relatively small. Giving them equal weight with a tally of successes, opportunities, and failures seems to undermine the seriousness of any analysis." 

The Public Safety Commission will also hear reports from Austin Fire, Police and EMS about the response to last October’s flooding.

Original story (April 15): In Austin, it’s almost certain a flood will hit in the future. What we don’t know is when.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

On the surface of the Onion Creek neighborhood, there’s progress.

The community is slowly recovering from 2013's deadly Halloween floods. Many families are back in their homes, even though most homes have yet to be fully rebuilt. But scratch the surface, and people are still suffering the psychological effects of that night.

Often when we hear about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it's in the context of war. But David Evans, CEO of Austin/Travis County Integral Care, says PTSD can affect those who survive any traumatic experience. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

It’s taken the City of Austin and Travis County almost six months to finalize a report detailing emergency response to the 2013 Halloween floods: what worked, what needs improvement and what – flat out – did not work.

See the full report here [PDF].

The report repeatedly highlights communication problems: between agencies, then between first responders, then with the general public. There was no clear channel of communication. There was no awareness about the kind of people who lived in the affected area either: a majority-minority community that does not primarily communicate using English.

Joy Diaz, KUT News

When you think about the word “homeless,” what comes to mind?

Homelessness can include a person who lacks housing. But it is also includes people in transitional housing. That's where Lydia Huerta, her husband and their three kids found themselves after they lost their home to flooding October 31.

Huerta says she "never really felt panic" until she lost her home. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

The federal government is sending $11.8 million to Travis County to help buy out homes in the flood-prone Onion Creek neighborhood.

More than 600 homes in the area were damaged or destroyed in last October’s flooding, but Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s office says the effort to buy out homes and restore the area to its natural habitat goes back to another flash flood there in 1998.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

A statewide insurance association says the Halloween flooding in Austin caused more than $30 million in insured damages to residential and commercial properties.

More than 580 insured homes and commercial properties in Hays, Travis and Caldwell counties were damaged by the floodwater, according to the figures released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Insurance Council of Texas

Jon Shapley for KUT News

The mostly uninhabited neighborhood of Onion Creek in southeast Austin has experienced some growth. But it’s growth the few neighbors who are back do not welcome.

Mold and mildew is growing in many of the homes that were left uninhabited after last year’s floods, which could create health problems for those living in Onion Creek.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Gov. Rick Perry is asking President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Administration [FEMA] to reverse a decision denying benefits to individual victims of southwest Austin’s Halloween floods.

Fast moving floodwaters in the early hours of Oct. 31 last year – concentrated in the southwest Austin neighborhood of Onion Creek – claimed six lives and ruined hundreds of homes.

In a letter to the President, Gov. Perry writes:

Joy Diaz, KUT News

The holidays can be prime for home break-ins – after all, that’s when people go out of town for a few days and leave their homes unattended.

But imagine what happens when an entire neighborhood is forced out of their homes – and the vast majority of houses remain uninhabited for almost three months. That’s the situation in flood-stricken Onion Creek in southwest Austin.

Joy Diaz/KUT

The flood-stricken neighborhood of Onion Creek honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today by cleaning a community park that’s been covered with debris since last year’s Halloween flood.

Metallic doors, glass from broken windows, gas tanks were among the many items strewn about the park. Mary-Lee Plumb-Mentjes filled an entire bucket with broken glass. “I’ve always picked up trash,” Plumb-Mentjes said. “We’ve been given two hands [and] I feel we should use [them] when we see something,”

Joy Diaz, KUT

In the days following last year's Halloween floods, tow trucks were indispensable to the Onion Creek community in Southeast Austin.

The flood disabled hundreds of vehicles and left them scattered throughout the area — some were in the middle of the road, while others careened into people's homes. But, after the waters receded, some say towing companies have developed a habit of towing cars — even when they’re not asked to do so.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT

The city of Austin has made offers to buy at least two dozen homes damaged by the Halloween flood. Why then, are some homeowners refusing to sell?

Floods are nothing new in South East Austin’s Onion Creek neighborhood. And neither is the city’s buyout program. It began back in 1998. The idea has always been to buy homes in the floodplain using taxpayer money to avoid future loss of life and property damages.

Terry Morris, a contractor and a real estate agent in Austin, owns a duplex in Onion Creek that’s been on the city’s buyout list for years. He recently opted out of the program.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Update: Austin Resource Recovery confirms that all 5 horse carcasses on public land were removed Tuesday afternoon.

Original Post: More than two months after flooding in Southeast Austin killed several people and caused millions of dollars in damage, the clean up continues. But some things left behind by the floodwaters are particularly disturbing: at least half a dozen dead horses.

The city has yet to retrieve the bodies of horses killed in the flooding which, in some cases, lie a short distance from people’s homes—people like Lydia Huerta. She says there are moments where the stench from the dead animals is unbearable. Her backyard is directly in front of a city park where some carcasses still remain.

Editor's Note: You can view photos of some of the animals in question here, though the photos are gruesome and may not be suitable for some.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon for KUT

Travis County Commissioners today authorized just over $2 million to buyout 40 flood-prone properties in the Onion Creek-area that were damaged in the Halloween floods.

Thirty-one homes and 9 commercial properties in the Brandt Road, Bluff Springs Road, Arroyo Doble Road and the Maha Creek area were affected or severely damaged by the floods and could be eligible for buyouts from the county.

Melinda Mallia, an environmental project manager with Travis County, says buyouts

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

It is property tax season and, for the people affected by last October’s floods, there will be some relief. The disaster declaration Texas Governor Rick Perry signed in December means flood victims can have their properties re-assessed and can make their payments in installments.

The relief will be small, since it will only cover the months of November and December, but Travis County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant said at a press conference today that, for over 600 properties, the relief means they’ll have a smaller tax payment. 

These days, the streets in the Onion Creek neighborhood look desolate.

Rows and rows of homes are still boarded up. But as you walk down the streets, you can see the occasional truck hauling construction materials and hear the clatter of recovery, as crews work to rebuild what was lost in the flooding over Halloween weekend last October.

While the cleanup efforts continue, and homes are rebuilt, over the holidays it was the giving spirit of strangers that really helped families get back to normal after the floods.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Nearly two months after devastating floods impacted Southeast Austin, President Obama has signed a disaster declaration for Travis, Hays and Caldwell Counties. The declaration offers federal help with recovery from the Halloween floods that rocked the region earlier this year. 

Pete Baldwin, emergency management coordinator for Travis County, says he’s still waiting for a list of categories the federal money will cover, but he says it could address everything from debris removal to roads and bridges. “Until we get those spreadsheets,” Baldwin says, “we won’t know which categories that we were awarded.”

The findings will be sent to the state and then be sent on to the local level; Baldwin says it’s unclear how soon that will happen.

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News

Community health workers – or promotoras de salud – with the Latino Health Care Forum are collecting data about people still living in Dove Springs after the Halloween floods.

"We have heard a lot of really sad stories …you just start crying," says promotora Norma Lopez. “We’re going to be working on-hand with our people. Refer them to whatever they need, any kind of help.”

Promotoras say they spent about a month getting feedback from people who still need help, especially medical care. The results will identify Dove Springs families still in need.

Connie Gonzaes, Facebook

As people are gearing up for Thanksgiving, many families impacted by last month’s flooding are still trying to put their lives back together.The floods severely damaged more than 600 homes and many of those people still don’t have a permanent place to stay.

But residents came together Sunday night to provide some flood victims with a Thanksgiving dinner and a place to escape the cold temperatures, if only for a few hours.

The event was organized by Dove Springs resident Robert Kibbie and Pastor Richard Villarreal with The Springs Community Church. Overall, 120 meals were served. Volunteers also delivered 60 meals to people who were not able to attend the actual event.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

This year, KUT News is chronicling the challenges and changes affecting Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood in a series called “Turning the Corner.”

These stories have taken on added urgency in the aftermath of Austin’s Halloween floods, where flooding directly affected many Dove Springs residents. 

Bene Jacobs’ morning routine hasn’t changed that much. She still gets up before 6 a.m., before it’s light outside.

In the darkness, at her cousin’s house in Del Valle, Bene struggles to find her way into the room where her children sleep. “Still learning all the light switches,” she whispers.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

The region's Halloween’s floods caused some $14 million in damage in Travis County. But it doesn’t look like the county will get federal assistance.

That’s what Emergency Management coordinator Pete Baldwin told the Travis County Commissioner’s Court yesterday. In order to get Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, the state has to have at least $35 million in damage.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Early on the morning of Oct. 31, as waters rose to historic levels in Onion Creek, two of the flood gauges that officials rely on to monitor water levels weren't working. The flooding heavily damaged more than 600 homes and killed five.

One gauge was completely submerged by water, damaging the equipment – which isn't waterproof. But the other had malfunctioned before the flooding even began. And more than two weeks after the Halloween Floods, city and emergency officials still don't know why.

The gauges, which are managed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), provide emergency responders with critical information during floods about how fast and how high flood waters are rising. In Austin, there are 130 flood gauges that measure water levels, rainfall and low-water crossings 24 hours a day.

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News

State lawmakers hosted a town hall meeting in a Dove Springs school last night. It’s not the first meeting for victims of the Halloween flooding, but many are still facing the same frustrations as they grapple with more questions than answers about the future of their homes.

At Mendez Middle School in Dove Springs, the scene was familiar – dozens of flood survivors gathered inside a school cafeteria to get help.  

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, was present to try and answer questions from people like Lillie Flores, whose house was gutted by the flood. She was frustrated, trying to figure out more about a new fund that Rep. Rodriguez has helped set up with State Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin. It's the Austin-Travis County Flood Relief Fund.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Update (Wednesday): State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and State Sen. Judith Zaffirini are hosting the second of two Austin-Travis County flood relief fund town halls tonight. The event is at Mendez Middle School in Dove Springs, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.  

On Facebook, Rep. Rodriguez writes a warm dinner will be served, and that Capital Metro shuttle service between Mendez Middle School and Perez Elementary School will be available. 

Travis County is hosting a meeting on home buyouts for the Timber Creek area tonight. “Buyout applications are used to seek additional funding, apply for grants, and advise the Commissioners Court on budgetary needs for buyout,” the county says.

The meeting, for Timber Creek residents only, is tonight at the South Rural Community Center in Del Valle, at 6:30 p.m.

Jay JannerMCT /Landov

Update (Monday): The city has released new information regarding the Halloween floods that claimed five lives. Here’s some numbers conveying the extent of the damage:

  • 659: Number of homes damaged
  • 259: Number of homes that received major damage                           
  • 15:  Number of homes destroyed
  • 1,300: Tons of debris removed from the affected area

Residents of southeast and southwest Austin are still in need of help. Fortunately, there’s several ways you can lend a hand.

Volunteer:

The Austin Disaster Relief Network is looking for volunteers to help with demolition and cleanup of affected areas. Volunteers are asked to wear jeans, gloves, masks, and hard sole shoes, and bring shovels, utility knives, and hammers if possible.

Mose Buchele, KUT News

A dead horse, dog, goat, and deer were among the putrefying animals that clean-up volunteers found today along a small strip of Onion Creek in the Bluffs Springs neighborhood of Travis County. 

"Somebody should be helping, at least coming and getting these animals out of here. I mean, they're decaying where [people] live," said Lina Meaux, a volunteer helping in the cleanup efforts.

Joy Diaz, KUT News

In Onion Creek, the sun shone brightly Friday morning. It’s a welcome change from a week ago, when flood waters devastated the southeast Austin neighborhood.

But that’s not what’s giving survivors hope. The hope comes from seeing FEMA investigators taking pictures and measurements.

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