Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
This series looks at how local, state and educational policies affect the neighborhood – everything from City Council representation to childhood obesity.

Onion Creek Residents Worry About Mold After Halloween Floods

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.

Lydia Huerta says her little girl’s asthma has worsened since her family moved back to Onion Creek after the flood, which she attributes to the mold. “It’s not a good situation," Huerta says.

The Huertas – a family of five – now live in an RV in front of what’s left of their home. They will start rebuilding soon, but most of the homes around them have remained untouched and that worries Huerta.

She remembers a delightful woman in her 70s used to live there.

“You’ll see the air come through," she says. "So the windows are open. It’s full of moldy stuff. There’s rats coming in and out of there and I don’t blame her for not wanting to come back.”

When people fled the rushing waters on Halloween morning, most took with them only the clothes they were wearing, leaving everything else behind. Almost three months later, those things are now covered with layers of fungi that vary in color – from white, to green to black.

The City of Austin’s Health Department doesn’t know if the mold is affecting Onion Creek neighbors, because the Health Department doesn’t track those numbers.

But Doctor Prashant Reddy does. He works for Community Care Health Centers at William Cannon, which serves the Onion Creek community. On the day we visited, the clinic’s lobby was full and he said he’s been awfully busy since shortly after the flood.

“[A] lot of those patients had pulmonary diseases or Asthma," Reddy says, as he looks at a chart that tracks the number of patients he’s seen over the last year and which of those patients came in for respiratory diseases. Reddy’s finger tracks a huge red spike on his chart that represents those patients.

"If you compare the numbers to last year around November, there’s a lot more patients coming in at a higher rate around November and December of 2013 compared to 2012," he says.

Therese Baer, an indoor quality consultant who specializes in the effects of mold, says some residents in Onion Creek are more susceptible to the rapid growth of mold.

“It’s most dangerous for immune compromised individuals," Baer says, which includes people who are already sick, children or the elderly.

Many of those people are now living in Onion Creek and some feel trapped because there isn’t a city or state department that deals with indoor environmental. Chris Ruves is one of those neighbors who is frustrated because he’s surrounded by moldy homes. I caught up with him and his friend Vicky Hutto as they walked through an Onion Creek park.

“I don’t know – I was feeling a little weird today in the morning, " Ruves says, walking through an Onion Creek park. His friend Vicky, chimes in. "There’s lot of mold in the house and there’s neighbors living in the house. The kids!"

Right after the flood some city employees advised the few neighbors who stayed how to prevent all sorts of health related problems that could arise from the damp and dirty conditions. But those city employees haven’t been back. That also frustrates Lydia Huerta – the mom whose little girl’s Asthma has worsened. She needs help and doesn’t know where to turn.

Neither does the rest of the neighborhood.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
Related Content