“It started raining upstream and then water started coming into the house,” said Cooper, who lives in Graveyard Point. “The water went probably to 3 or 4 feet over the top of my house, over the peak of the roof.”
Cooper and many other Lake Travis area residents have been trying to recover from long-lasting rains that began picking up momentum Oct. 15. By Oct. 18, state and local officials declared Travis County a disaster area and Lake Travis had tallied one of its highest levels since that data has been recorded.
Recovery efforts are now underway in Travis County to rebuild and repair after recent flooding. To date the county has identified about 400 structures affected by the floods, Travis County Chief Emergency Management Coordinator Eric Carter said Tuesday.
The neighborhood of Graveyard Point in Lakeway's extraterritorial jurisdiction was one of the hardest hit in the area. After Lake Travis crested 704 feet—100 percent capacity is at 681 feet—Cooper said he drove by his house on a boat and saw his chimney, which he estimated to be about 2.5 feet below the surface of the water.
“The only thing left in my house right now is the bathtub and a commode,” he said.
The waters in Lake Travis have been receding for almost two weeks, but Cooper said it is still waist-high at his house. He said he’s staying with his daughter in Oak Hill until he can move back in to his Graveyard Point home, but he stopped by the Lake Travis Community Library on Tuesday to meet with a team of Red Cross volunteers.
After about an hour, the team had assessed his needs and provided him with some money and other supplies.
This particular Red Cross team has been providing help like this for flood victims throughout Central Texas since last week.
Providing needed help
Veronica Ramirez, Red Cross Regional Communications Manager for Central and South Texas, said from the Lake Travis Community Library front entrance that this is the fourth stop in a total of six for her team, which consisted mostly of volunteers from locations throughout the country, including Colorado, New York, Milwaukee and North Carolina. The group has so far provided assistance in Llano, Kingsland and Lago Vista.
Ramirez said the relief effort at the library in Lakeway serves purposes beyond helping local flood victims, including gathering information about how much help is needed, as well as what kind.
“What’s unique to this area is we still don’t know [what’s needed] because a lot of the roads we’re still having a hard time getting through,” she said. “What we are encountering that is great for residents [in Lakeway] is that a lot of them do have homeowners insurance in this specific area.”
Ramirez said her team has also been helping out with multiple area resource centers, or MARCs, in which agencies such as the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Austin Disaster Relief Network or any other aid groups get together in disaster areas to offer a collective contingent of resources for victims.
Even though the rate of residents in Lakeway with homeowner protections is higher than some other areas,Ramirez stressed the Red Cross is still providing needed assistance.
“The thing is this, regardless of what type of income you have, we’re here to assist,” she said. “We’re not going to decide who we help and who we don’t help. If you have a need for assistance and you feel like we can benefit you and make this transition easier, let us know. That’s why we’re here.”
Other avenues of assistance
Lyndie Thornhill is another resident of Graveyard Point who stopped by the library to see if the Red Cross could help her. She said she did suffer some losses, but it could have been worse.
“We were fortunate enough to have a second floor so we were able to get some stuff up there, but unfortunately all of the stuff we couldn’t fit up our stairwell, we lost that,” Thornhill said. “Part of our house is made out of cement, so that was really helpful, but a lot of it was a new addition to the house on the bottom floor where our bedrooms are, so we lost the walls and we’re going to have to a lot of work to get all that water out, and there’s a lot of mold in there right now.”
She said many people in the community have stepped in and brought her and her family supplies such as bleach, snacks and water.
“And they’re always checking on us, so that’s good,” Thornhill said.
The Red Cross was there to help people such as Cooper and Thornhill, who needed temporary assistance to help them as they deal with rebuilding efforts, but the team was also there to help with other needs.
Jonathan O’Neill said he came to the Hill Country last Thursday from New Hampshire. He’s a registered nurse for his main job, so as a volunteer for Red Cross he helps from a health services vantage point.
“If somebody’s lost some medications or their inhaler or their walker or specialty bed we can give them a certain amount of money to help them replace it,” O’Neill said. “Sometimes we act more as advocates, and we can call the insurance company and say, ‘Hey this person went through a disaster. Can you comp them or give them any kind of discount?’"
Sometimes it’s money and sometimes it’s just helping disaster victims figure out who they need to call, he said.
“It’s just kind of getting referrals and getting them back to their normal state of health,” he said. “We’re just trying to help people and relieve their suffering to the pre-disaster state.”
As of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, O’Neill said he had only seen two people so far, but several others walked in to the case processing hub inside the library in the 90 minutes since the Red Cross began operations that morning.
Ramirez also said a team of home damage assessors was on hand.
“If we haven’t assessed your house, we have a team that we call Hot Shots that will actually go out into the field, check out your house and determine what type of damage you have, whether it’s major or minor,” she said. “Sometimes there is something we missed and we’re more than happy to go back out and make sure we get it right.”
Lakeway leaders do their part
Although not officially a part of the Red Cross effort Tuesday, former Lakeway City Council Member Jim Powell was at the library talking with the team of volunteers as well as flood victims.
Through Lakeway Church, of which he is a member, Powell said he has been working alongside the Red Cross to help victims since the flooding began. The church has been instrumental in helping during the disaster, he said.
“The Red Cross had contacted us the week of the flood and asked if we could open up one of our buildings on campus [at Lakeway Church] to house refugees,” Powell said. “We don’t have showers and that presented a problem, but because it was a disaster we didn’t have a lot of choices, so we opened up our building for three nights.”
Powell said the Red Cross has a hotline people can call during a disaster when they need shelter. No one called for three days, he said.
“Thirty minutes after they [Red Cross] packed up all their things and I saw the trailer going off, the Red Cross got two calls from people that needed help,” Powell said.
Lakeway Church was no longer an option at that point, so Powell said church leaders put the two families requesting shelter in a motel, and have since found intermediate housing for them through Lake Travis Crisis Ministries.
“They own an RV and agreed to put a woman and her son in the RV through January,” he said. “The other woman we’re helping, the night of the flood her husband started experiencing severe abdominal pain. He’s a veteran and he’s in the hospital now in the Temple VA Hospital. So these are the two that our church is sponsoring.”
Another consideration that required immediate action was the housing of the Red Cross volunteers, who couldn’t secure hotel rooms in Lakeway.
Powell said he reached out to Lakeway Mayor Sandy Cox, who in turn contacted Lake Travis ISD Superintendent Dr. Brad Lancaster. Powell said Lancaster was able to house the Red Cross team in the LTISD small gym for a couple of nights on the weekend of Oct. 20.
It is people and groups including Lancaster, Cox, Lake Travis Crisis Ministries and the owners of the Mountain Star Lodge, who let a flood victim stay at their hotel at a discounted rate, that Powell said he wanted to make sure received credit for all they did and are doing to help residents in need.
“The new owners [of the Mountain Star Lodge] have cleaned up the place and let this one flood survivor stay there with their dog, which is not within their policy, and they cut the rates,” he said. “I’d just like to give them some acknowledgement, too, for what they did.”
Continuing the relief effort
Red Cross Volunteer Bill Madden lives in Waco and is in the Lake Travis area for a two-week deployment. His main post Tuesday in Lakeway was at the back of the library’s parking lot where several other volunteers manned a mobile supply station.
It was there where Cooper pulled up in his pickup truck, got out and talked with Madden. Madden then made quick work of putting water and a cleanup kit consisting of masks, garbage bags and gardening equipment in the back of Cooper's truck.
Madden said so far that morning he provided supplies for about nine or 10 other Lakeway and Lake Travis area residents. He said he also delivers supplies to people’s homes and has seen multiple areas damaged by the flooding.
“You go down near the rivers and lakes and there are spots that have damage to the houses and there are spots with not much damage, but we still assist them,” Madden said. “[The water] may have gotten an inch in to their house or something like that. Most of the time I drive into the actual areas and I supply them with cleanup kits—shovels, rakes, trash bags, anything they need to help them clean up.”
Tomorrow, he said, he’ll be going to another area to help.
Taylor Jackson Buchanan contributed to this report.