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Austin Flood Survivors Say Questions Keep Mounting as Answers Fall Short

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News
People gathered at Mendez Middle School in Dove Springs on Nov. 13, 2013, to get more information after the Halloween Floods devastated their homes.

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.

"You keep talking about a relief fund? I have some questions for you. Will this fund be for everybody? Or will this fund be for people on fixed income, with insurance, without? What’s gonna be?" Flores asked, as Rodriguez tried to answer her questions. 

The town hall was a one-stop shop to speak with a slew of people -- lawmakers, builders, legal experts and insurance officials, among others. People still want to know how high they would need to rebuild their homes above flood level, how to get permits, what their legal rights are and whether or not the government will buy their homes.

The Austin City Council has already approved purchasing 115 homes damaged by the flood. But City Council Member Mike Martinez says getting federal funds to boost the buyout program is difficult.

"The only way we get federal funding is when Congress adopts a budget. Congress hasn’t adopted a budget for the last six or seven years now," Martinez says. "Over the last 14 years we’ve received about $9 million from FEMA. The city has spent $23 million in buyouts. There are many more homes that need to be bought out. We’re now looking at other sources of funding."

Martinez says Austin could postpone capital improvement projects and use the money for the buyouts instead.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has not yet confirmed whether the area qualifies as a disaster. That would bring in more funds, but 850 homes must have been severely damaged and lack insurance.

Lillie Flores says there might be no point in rebuilding, even with federal help. 

"Is it worth it? All this money you have to spend and then they’ll say, well now you have to knock it down and you have to build up," says Flores, whose house is on Wild Onion Drive. "What’s going to happen to all these people including myself? I’m homeless then like I am now. Too many questions, not enough answers. Tomorrow we’ll see if those people who got my number today will call."

Meanwhile, residents were reminded last night that for more immediate help, they should stop by the Dove Springs Recreation Center to request items like space heaters, as temperatures are dropping. 

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