Sharing frustrations of flooding in Austin

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2001

I have to admit I was suddenly hit upside the head with the flooding situation at the end of last week.

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

I have to admit I was suddenly hit upside the head with the flooding situation at the end of last week. And now I am frustrated.

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Last Wednesday I decided to check on an area I heard consistently flooded, namely First Street NE. The road was damp and the river was in sight, but things were relatively calm. What a difference a day makes!

On Thursday, I returned to the same place, only to find the street was impassable because the river was over the road and creeping toward houses on the east side of the street. The situation hit home – flooding is a reality in Austin. Before seeing it with my own two eyes the state of Austin’s flooding was an abstract concept. I understood it, but not really.

Later that day, the city and county discussed doing something about the situation, like hiring a joint city-county watershed manager. Good, I thought. Discussion brings solutions.

And then I received a call from a citizen and talked to people on the street, all of whom wanted to know whether there was someone in this town who is responsible for mobilizing people to help those affected by the flooding. I decided to investigate.

The American Red Cross and Salvation Army were very helpful and honestly said they were keeping an eye on the flooding and helping wherever they could. Maj. Doug Yeck of the Salvation Army actually got up in the middle of the night to check the river levels. That impressed me. Each organization assured me they were working to organize a central mobilization point, be it a phone number or a location.

In fact, Mayor Bonnie Rietz will be meeting with representatives of both organizations in the next couple of weeks to work toward flooding solutions, among them a central mobilization site. Yeah, I thought, help is coming.

I believe I became the most frustrated with the local emergency management services. It took me a while to contact someone and then I was shocked to learn that our local office is responsible for dropping off sand and sandbags, and that is about it. What? No relief money, no volunteer organization, no using a little elbow grease to help save homes in this city? No.

It seems Austin’s flooding is flash flooding and that can’t be planned for. So residents, you will just have to wait it out and deal with it yourself, I guess. I know, it is not their job, but whose job is it?

OK, the last couple of paragraphs are negative and I hate being negative. So, I’ll share some thoughts residents shared with me about bright spots they found in Austin when flood waters came to their doorsteps.

Many residents said the Red Cross and Salvation Army were there for them when they needed them. They brought food and checked on residents even after the waters had subsided. That kind of concern matters to people and it clearly made an impact. And other residents helped as well. Maybe they brought clothing or lent a vacuum or pressure-washer, but they helped nonetheless.

Now the City Council is debating raising the sales tax to pay for flood relief and acquisition. It may not be the most palatable solution, but at least it is an idea. By the way, you can tell the city what you think by logging onto e-Forum off of the city’s Web site at

Despite the hope for flood victims glimpsed in council discussions and organization by the Salvation Army and American Red Cross, I can’t help feeling as if we are sitting on the beach picnicking while there is a tidal wave a few miles offshore. The best time to get organized is now, before the river rises again.

I am at a loss as to how to mobilize volunteers through a central location. I am new to this town and I do not know where to start. Hopefully, a solution will be coming soon, while the sun still shines. Hopefully all of us can pitch in and get our hands dirty … NOW.

Kevira Mertha’s column appears Wednesdays. Call her at 434-2233 or e-mail her at