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As Flood Waters Recede, Wimberley Residents Start to Pick Up the Pieces

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
Wimberley residents walk and survey the town after Monday's storms.

The community in Wimberley is finding some sort of normalcy after record flooding over the weekend. Seven homes there were destroyed, and 1,400 were damaged. But even before the waters had receded, community members started looking for ways to help their neighbors.

A steady flow of customers came into Brookshire Brothers, Wimberley's local supermarket, on Tuesday. Customers were buying extra water and groceries that supermarket employees would then pack up for neighbors in need. A sign-up sheet by the door encouraged residents to write down how they could help others. Some people offered their cars; others, their cell phones.

Judy Dunn, a volunteer at the non-profit Wimberley Crisis Bread Basket, said that as of Tuesday, the information flow into and out of the town was just a trickle.

“We can't email anybody,” says Dunn. “You put it out, and it says the server doesn't recognize these people, because we have no internet.”

In the moments that Dunn's phone did have service, she would post on Facebook a wishlist of items — toilet paper, bug spray — that the community needed.

For years, the town of Wimberley — population 2,626 at the last census — had been associated with a more affluent demographic. Residents had been able to bounce back fairly quickly after floods in the past. But the city's been growing recently, and more people with economic challenges have moved there. They're the ones that older Wimberley residents are worried about.

They're also concerned about the town’s younger residents: Many schoolchildren in Wimberley were directly affected by the destruction caused by the weekend’s record flooding.

Local school administrators say they’re hoping to get students back to class as soon as possible, hoping the school routine will help the kids regain a sense of normalcy — but classes are canceled for Wednesday. One of the main bridges in town was still closed late Tuesday afternoon after being damaged by the flood, making it hard for some students and faculty to get in.

Seniors at the town's only high school, Wimberley High School, have a graduation ceremony scheduled at Texas State University on Friday. The 170 seniors who’ll be walking are hoping more rain holds off.

The high school's Secretary, Sharon Newlander, says the senior class surprised the school with a gesture of generosity.

"The seniors gave up their [class] trip and are donating their money back – their trip was tomorrow to Fiesta Texas – we have a lot of seniors that lost their houses, they lost everything," Newlander says.

While Wimberley used to be associated with affluence, the high school principal Jason Valentine says times have changed. Now, he says, about one-third of Wimberley’s students live in poverty.

"The last recession kind of put some students and families into having that need,” the principal says.

Many of the local students depend on free or reduced school meals. That's one challenge the community will be facing as the school year ends in the next few days. Teachers and administrators are hoping that students who have lost everything won’t go through the summer months without enough to eat.

The city just opened a hotline both for volunteers and for residents in need – that number is 512-754-2275.

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.
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