On Halloween 2013 in Austin, TX, the waters of Onion Creek rose at an alarming rate. The creek rose 23 feet in 3 hours when the flood gauge stopped working. It was a few hours later that the first 911 calls started coming in, and another hour and ½ before the police responded. This was after the creek crested at 45 feet with almost 1000 homes flooded. 600 had major damage. Within Travis County, 5 areas where hit, with the Onion Creek Park/Yarrabee Bend area being one of the worst. This community also happens to be very multi-racial and lower income. Five people were killed, along with 44 horses from an Equestrian Center, dozens of goats and around 1000 chickens. Like all disasters, the recovery will take a long time. With close to 300 homes uninsured, many with children, rebuilding when you have lost everything can be overwhelming.
It is funny how things happen in one’s life. I started a Tai Chi class this September with Dr. Gu. He was the acupuncturist that helped me reclaim my body from a few years of chronic pain. So now that I am doing better I thought this could be really good for me so have jumped in. A women named Ruth supports the beginners and I learned that she lived in Onion Creek. When the floods happened, I was concerned she might have been hit, and she was, but fortunately not so bad. She can still live in her home.
Because we had a connection to a resident, we were able to get into the neighborhood to begin providing the immediate support of cleaning out homes. We began to organize together, and to make things easier we adopted the name Austin Common Ground Relief and we have been organizing ever since. ACG has been provided hot food everyday through the Thanksgiving holiday and we continue every weekend. We hosted a neighborhood party where we cooked 30 chickens, set up a free store, and had live music, a kid’s bouncy house, games and more! We gutted a number of homes and did daily distribution of food or donated supplies. We have been doing what we can to access as much stuff as possible to re-distribute as much as possible as soon as possible. Many families continue to live in gutted homes with no gas, oven, or refrigerator. We have prioritized homes with kids, elderly and single parents.
The other day as I distributed food, a young girl in her early teens came over with her little dog. As a car neared she was super concerned about her dog. She told me he was the only one of their 7 dogs that survived. She had been in her bed when her house flooded and is still not really able to sleep well. So many young ones had their worlds turned upside down.
Like many disasters, people want to help, and lots of money goes to Red Cross. Within a week or so after the flood, the Red Cross was gone from the area, and now without a federal disaster declared for individuals, people without insurance are in trouble. ACG is supporting the residents in organizing their neighborhood in order to support the Long Term Recovery work that lies ahead. While it is only a few isolated neighborhoods that were hard hit, many in Austin are oblivious to what has happened. ACG will do what we can to insure that justice prevails in the recovery of these communities.