Residents of Onion Creek, Southeast Travis County prepare for potential flooding

The city's Watershed Protection Department is recommending voluntary buyouts in the Onion Creek neighborhood following the results of a three-year flood plain study.

The city's Watershed Protection Department is recommending voluntary buyouts in the Onion Creek neighborhood following the results of a three-year flood plain study.

Furniture will be packed into a trailer in the driveway of David and Liz Willson's upper Onion Creek neighborhood home as the couple anticipates the chance of a flood brought on by Hurricane Harvey.

The Willsons, like many Onion Creek residents, are preparing for a possible repeat of history.

"If the floods approach the bluff at Onion Creek we will head out," David Willson said. "We need to be prepared to leave here if it [the creek] does rise."

Badly damaged by the October 2013 flood, the Willsons' house is among a handful of area homes recently authorized for a buyout by the city of Austin. Thankfully, their home's appraisal will stand regardless of what happens this weekend, David Willson said.

"We called the city of Austin's real estate office this morning to confirm that our buyout appraisal is conditioned upon the date they walked through the house, so even if our home floods this weekend, at least the buyout offer will remain," he said. "That was real peace of mind."

A portion of the Onion Creek neighborhood sits in the floodplain and was hit significantly by the Halloween floods of 2013 and 2015.

President of the Onion Creek Homeowners Association Ken Jacob said his neighbors are taking the necessary precautions in case of an emergency, such as stocking nonperishable foods and readying generators.

"Any time a storm comes people get nervous out here," Jacob said. "We have been through this enough times now so we know how to help each other and what to expect; we will deal with it."

Unlike floods of the past, David Willson said the upside to Hurricane Harvey is that it is a slow-moving storm in which rain is expected to fall over an extended number of days, allowing the creek's tributaries more time to shed water.

"The rain is going to be substantial but accumulated over a week or so, therefore we desperately hope the tributaries will shed water as it rains and that it will not be a wall of rain come down on us, forcing the creek into our homes," he said.

Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gomez, whose Precinct 4 covers Southeast Austin and includes the Onion Creek neighborhood, is urging residents to prepare for flooding and to not resist evacuations if called for.

“We have no control over the rain and we need people on the alert,” Gomez said. “We have a lot of low-water crossings [in Precinct 4] so we are asking people to not cross the roads. That water is coming fast and is more powerful than we are. ‘Turn around, don’t drown.’”

Gomez said she is also working with a few other communities in Southeast Travis County, such as Dove Springs, where there is a high risk of flooding.

Onion Creek is preparing its own emergency evacuation plans, Jacob said. Over the weekend, its neighborhood watch program will stand by to monitor the situation and assist with potential evacuations.

"One of our concerns it that we have older people in the danger areas, and they may have trouble with communications and getting out if something happens," Jacob said. "We know where they are and will be checking on them if something happens."

The neighborhood's security force will also monitor creek levels throughout the weekend, said Kathy Pillmore, former Onion Creek HOA president. Residents in the South Pinehurst Drive and Wild Dunes Drive areas are encouraged to evacuate as soon as possible if an email or phone alert is received, she said.

“The security teams usually watch the creek and monitor how fast and high it is,” Pillmore said. “We know where it gets the worst and will make sure to evacuate all those people before everyone else.”

Sightseers have been asked to avoid venturing into the Onion Creek neighborhood unless invited by a resident, Pillmore said.

Residents looking for emergency shelter should call 512-974-2000 or 311, Gomez said. Emergency food and clothing will also be available by calling 211. All Travis County resident are encouraged to sign up to receive alerts through the emergency system and follow the Travis County emergency management Twitter and Facebook accounts for updates related to Hurricane Harvey.

The Red Cross has also issued an urgent request for volunteers. For volunteer information, contact the Red Cross at 800-928- 4271 or visit the American Red Cross website.
By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.


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