#WimberleyStrong – a community’s strength overcomes massive flooding

{Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment in the Texas Memorial Day Flood Six Months Later series, which was produced by the Texas State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication senior journalism course led by Associate Professor of Practice, Kym Fox. Interact with the stories in the series by clicking here.} 

What started as a rainy Saturday for some, quickly turned for the worst as night fell.

On May 23, 2015, the city and community surrounding Wimberley, Texas, experienced the true force and wrath of Mother Nature.

With rain never stopping, the tourist getaway nestled in the hills of Hays County was quickly engulfed. A town once prized for its easy access to the Blanco River, now faced the raging waters that surrounded it.

With no real warning, Wimberley, its residents, and surrounding cities like San Marcos experienced an onslaught of rain, flooding and dangerous conditions. What happens when devastation, wreckage and little hope floods a town as quickly as the water?

Action.

From residents warning neighbors, to search and rescue teams collecting the stranded and helpless, Wimberley and the surrounding area took a stand against the walls of water taking over their homes.

“It was unbelievable to see everyone come together and start the rebuilding process,” said Bob French, a retired 62-year-old resident of Wimberley. “It all started as fast as the flooding did. Everyone played some kind of part in helping. They had their own kitchens, their owns showers, peoples[sic] was grilling. You’d be working out on these properties and homes, come in and get fed, then get back out there. We’ve been tackling this as a community and as a team.”

French, who was once employed by the IRS, has traded in his suit and tie for gloves and boots.

A member of “Carpenter’s Helpers”, French and other men from the Wimberley area offer their carpentry skills to projects and people who need it within the community.

“I seen[sic] what kind of damages were being done right after the floods, and I knew that me and the rest of the Carpenter’s Helpers were going to be needed,” said French.

With French out in the wreckage, his 58-year-old wife Denise, was left at home to help in her own way.

“I knew I wouldn’t be much help out in the mud, moving heavy debris, so I have developed my own way of helping,” said Denise. “Every day these men have came home hungrier than ever, so I make sure to have a hot meal ready for them and anyone else in the community that needs some love and tender care. That’s really what this whole ordeal has shown us all, how strong our community really is.”

Community: Defined by Merriam-Webster as “a unified body of individuals.”

A unified body of individuals is exactly what was created from the Memorial Day flooding.

With the waters not only causing damages to property but also creating problems for many residents, Wimberley opened its high school as a disaster relief center for those in need. With much demand and need for space, the city moved the relief center efforts to the Wimberley Volunteer Resource Center.

Created to aid those affected by the flood, the center has been bustling with traffic of those willing to give their time. From rebuilding homes to clearing debris, to cleaning clothes and simply providing social services, the range of work has been met with a range of volunteers.

“What’s really interesting is there is no typical volunteer,” said Karen Killoren, a volunteer at the Wimberley Volunteer Resource Center. “We have 6-year-old little girls, we have elderly people with physical challenges, people who have been through a lot of struggles themselves.

Killoren, who is currently fighting breast cancer, uses the time at the VRC to keep her mind on something she thinks is more important than her own battles.

“I am on disability, and I am a workaholic. So this has allowed me to throw myself into something very useful to keep me busy, and it’s hard to focus on your own problems when you see the issues of other people around you. It really helps keep things in perspective,” said Killoren.

The VRC, Carpenter’s Helpers and other organizations are making a difference by rebuilding and mending what was once a broken community. However, help has also come in a more advanced way thanks to social media.

When the waters of the Memorial Day Floods took hold of the small town of Wimberley, help was spread through Twitter. Tweets ranged from information on where to get help, how to help, to fundraisers and positive messages.

From benefits to fundraisers, athletes to children, people were unifying under one common goal, to rebuild and help in any way.

One of those was Nancy Smith.

Smith, a volunteer for a nonprofit program called School Fuel in San Marcos, was away on vacation with her husband, Larkin, on the night of the floods.

That weekend getaway could have saved their lives.

“We could have come home, but decided to stay one more night,” said Smith.

That one more night the Smith’s stayed away was the same night that the floods took away their home and much of their history.

“It was shocking to see, as we pulled up to our flooded house, our refrigerator outside. We lost three TVs, five computers, all I could do was start taking pictures,” said Smith.

Like many, Nancy and her husband lost possessions to the raging waters.

One thing they never lost was their faith.

“We thank God for our lives – we were spared being up on the rooftop like our neighbors next door or trapped in our home like the people across the street or floating down the access road like the neighbors nearest the interstate or the young adults across the street who were renting and lost everything,” said Smith.

The Smiths received help from all corners of the demographic map. From church groups to athletes, friends and family to former coworkers – the Smith’s were amazed at the love and support being poured onto them.

Upwards of 50 people showed up on Memorial Day to begin the cleanup process.

“They carted off our clothes and washed them, sent them to the cleaners, or discarded them.  Others carried out soaked furniture.  Some washed my dishes that were salvaged, packing them into boxes,” said Smith. “On Tuesday about 25 Texas State students working for the United Way came and helped my husband clean out his workshop in the rear of our house.”

Students left in San Marcos for the summer were one of the many groups that jumped at the opportunity to make a difference.

One student who chose to put on some work gloves instead of swim trunks was 23-year-old James Haley.

“I just saw that they needed help, and what all was going on, that got me into it. I realized I had a whole summer to spend hanging out and chilling with the bros, what’s a few hours for a few days here and there to help my fellow man when they need me,” said Haley.

Haley, who rounded up a group of his friends and took on any project that needed some young muscle, also took to social media to spread the need of help.

“I was sending texts, Snapchats, really anything that would get my friends to get out there and help someone. In the end, to see students who are preoccupied with so much on their plate as it is, step forward and making helping others a priority is refreshing to say the least,” he said.

The action and compassion shown in and around Wimberley in response to the Memorial Day floods speak volumes in how such a diverse area can unite as one.

 

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