Grey humid weather brings some anxiety to the residents of Martindale in Central Texas. Many of them are still recovering from last year’s Memorial Day floods.
Anna Sandoval-Davila checks in on many of them regularly. She is a disaster case manager with the United Methodist Committee on Relief. She tries to assist families and residents in getting their homes repaired and their belongings fixed, replaced or cleaned up. For the Hamilton family, for instance, she’s still trying to find money to repair their leaking roof and remove the mold spreading in their home.
It’s been a year since floods devastated parts of Central Texas. The cities affected have made progress, but it’s a long process. While much of the media attention has been on recovery efforts in places like San Marcos and Wimberley, there are more towns in Central Texas, like tiny Martindale, where families are still struggling to rebuild.
In her black cat-eye glasses with rhinestones in the corners and her coral lipstick, Sandoval-Davila stops by Paula Reyes’ house.
She has known Reyes practically forever. Reyes, now 90, used to babysit her when she was a kid. This is a close-knit community - only about 1,000 people live here. Most are Latinos.
The siding on Reyes' home is peeling away. She said the people who were fixing it left, probably to help others.
Since last year’s Memorial Day floods, four more natural disasters have been declared in Texas. Humanitarian groups have been stretched thin; volunteers can be hard to come by.
Another group will arrive to help Reyes. But, they’re not coming until the end of June, Sandoval-Davila said.
Reyes’ father built this house. The flood washed out part of the foundation and warped the floors. It left Reyes without furniture, running water or electricity.
“She didn’t know about FEMA. She didn’t know what FEMA was until I told her,” Sandoval-Davila said.
So she drove Reyes to the office and helped her apply for disaster relief.
Through the program, Reyes was allotted $2,800 — about a quarter of what she needs to fix her house, Sandoval-Davila said.
“You see a lot of depression, stress, anxiety, and it’s like a snowball effect. That’s why I check on my clients," Sandoval-Davila said. "If I don’t see them this week, I still call them and touch base and say 'Hey, I’m here. Are you okay? How was your week this week? Let’s talk about it.”
Sandoval-Davila refers clients to counselors, but nothing helps like getting things back to normal. Reyes was able to replace her sofa.
“Now you can watch your novelas,” Sandoval-Davila told her.
Back in San Marcos, Thomas Monahan coordinates relief efforts for the region.
“We’ve got about 700 families who were affected by both the Memorial Day flooding and the All Saints flooding in October that are still needing assistance. Everyday we still have people contacting us who just found out they can get help," he said.
Monahan directs the Blanco River Regional Recovery Team, a mostly volunteer group that’s trying to get people back on their feet.
“We’ve probably got three to five years of work. And chances are we may be flooded again.”
Monahan and others say some areas have gotten more help than others.
“We’re kind of forgotten about. We’re in the back corner of a poor county. The majority of our population is elderly folks,” said Martindale Mayor Randy Bunker. “We didn’t get any attention. We didn’t make any media. Wimberley got hit hard yes, and San Marcos, but then it’s like everybody forgot Martindale existed.”
It doesn’t help that his city is strapped for cash, Bunker said. He’s applied for some grants to help people out, and he’s waiting on FEMA reimbursement.
Sandoval-Davila said the waiting frustrates the families she works with. She feels it too – she knows what they’re going through.
At Sandoval-Davila’s house, there’s a brand-new front door. Last year, she and her husband had to climb onto the roof of their garage to escape the flood waters.
“This is where they rescued me,” she said, pointing to the roof.
Her house flooded twice – in May and again in October. She said she and her husband have already spent around $35,000 on repairs.
She’s afraid it will flood again.
“I’m pretty sure it will. But this is where I grew up. This is what my father left," she said. "That’s where I want to be. That’s my home sweet home.”
She also has to stay, she said, because people in her community need her help, and helping them inspires her to keep going.