As you may know, Texas has had flooding recently. For most of us, it was a night of heavy rain and a soggy morning, then the skies cleared and Halloween activities went forth as planned. For the residents of Onion Creek in Austin, that was not the case.
For them, they woke up to raging waters five feet high in their homes. Several people lost their lives and more than 3,000 people have been affected. Yesterday, I visited the site of that devastation on behalf of the American Red Cross and I was shocked.
The scene looked like Hurricane Katrina in an Austin neighborhood (see my photos). As I walked down the street, I watched residents working inside their homes to salvage what they could and I thought of how they had to pile up ruined belongings along the curb for the city’s bulldozers to haul away. This was after officials had cleared dead livestock (such as cows washed into treetops) and after the snake problem was brought under control (a result of the nearby bayou).
If this physical damage weren’t enough, I also learned how costly and complicated this response has been. So far, the Red Cross has served more than 40,000 meals and handed out more than 500 supply kits, with requests for support increasing every day. The total cost of this relief effort has quickly reached that of the Bastrop wildfire. However, in terms of donations, we haven’t seen near the outpouring of support.
If you read no further, I’ll make my ask now: Please join me in donating to the American Red Cross. You can give any amount online at redcross.org or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Please help these families in need and thank you for your support.
For those of you who are interested in why this is such a unique and challenging disaster, read on…
One of the biggest issues we’re facing in this disaster is the extent of the damage to homes. More than 1,000 properties have been severely damaged and many of those have been “red tagged,” which means they’ll be condemned. Also, almost no one in the affected area has flood insurance and the flood happened overnight. That means most people were at home, so their cars flooded in their driveways. That leaves them not only possibly homeless, but without access to transportation to get to work. Fortunately, Capital Metro and Yellow Cab of Austin have been great partners helping to address this problem, but more help is needed.
The condemnation of homes also presents a challenge. Homeowners are fearful of both “red tags” and looters, so they don’t want to leave their properties. However, most have no electricity and no water. That means: (1) they’re reluctant to go to the Community Flood Assistance Center for the services available there; (2) they have no heat to cook food or guard against the cold weather that has arrived; and (3) they have no transportation to buy food. The Red Cross has deployed mobile feeding units and service teams to address this need, but it’s very expensive and they need resources to support it.
The Red Cross is also working actively to assist residents by providing food and shelter, and in the cases of the most severely damaged or destroyed homes, providing some rental assistance for new housing. However, finding properties isn’t easy. Austin’s rental market is very tight and available properties in price ranges residents can afford aren’t easy to come by. All this while many are unsure where they’re going to live or how they’re going to get to work.
I walked away from my experience understanding that this is a very complicated disaster with no simple solutions. I also realized that we must spread the word in Austin, so our community can come together to help as we have in other disasters. With that in mind, I humbly ask you to do two things.
(1) Please join me in donating $100 (or more) at www.redcross.org today, because the best way we can support these residents is through financial contributions. If that’s not possible, we can all afford $10 and you can donate that right now by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999. Thank you for whatever you can give.
(2) Please spread the word. Share this message on social media, send emails to your distribution lists and talk about it with your friends and neighbors. The more people who know the extent of the need, the more support these residents will receive.
Austin is a generous community and I know that Austinites are going to open their hearts – and their wallets – as they become aware of the extent of the devastation and the thousands of people who have been impacted. Thank you for helping the American Red Cross help our neighbors in their time of greatest need.
Chairman, Board of Directors | American Red Cross of Central Texas
Senior Vice President and Austin General Manager | Pierpont Communications