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Recovery efforts continue from deadly May flooding in Central Texas, victims not forgotten

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SAN MARCOS, Texas — Pastor Todd Salmi's sermon Sunday was on the book of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. With the Memorial Day weekend floods that damaged or destroyed more than 2,200 homes in this area still at the top of most people's minds, it was only natural that he'd segue to the ongoing recovery efforts.

"Just as Nehemiah was called to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem and the wall surrounding the city, we have been called to repair the damaged homes of our neighbors," the associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of San Marcos told the congregation.

The San Antonio Express-News reports (http://bit.ly/1LNCEWv ) two months after the floodwaters hit, those involved in the recovery efforts agree that there's plenty of work to be done and that volunteers are still very much needed.

"This recovery's going to take years," Salmi said after the service.

While initial efforts involved clearing water-swept debris from homes and yards, the focus now is shifting to repair and rebuilding. While all volunteers are welcome, as the recovery effort moves into the next stage, what's most needed is heavy equipment such as backhoes, trailers, chain saws — and people capable of operating them.

Also needed are plumbers, electricians, contractors and anyone else who knows his or her way around a construction site.

"The response we got those first few days was amazing," said Courtney Goss, a coordinator with the Wimberley Volunteer Response Center. "We had so many people show up to help, I think we may have scared some away."

The first wave of volunteers had the task of salvaging items such as furniture and clothing, sorting out personal effects and removing wallboard before it became covered with mold.

And everywhere, there was mud — up to several feet deep in places — to be shoveled.

In Hays County, where Wimberley is located, residents are racing against the clock to get debris out of their homes and yards. That's because the county has set an Aug. 2 deadline for free pickup of flood-damaged items. After that, homeowners will have to pay for hauling services.

Many volunteers — individuals or groups — first contact Serve San Antonio, which coordinates its efforts with many of the nonprofits in the region.

"We send people where they're needed and help distribute donations," said Sabrina Paul a volunteer co-coordinator with the group.

Serve San Marcos was intended as an effort to connect with Texas State University students interested in volunteering. But it wasn't supposed to launch until the upcoming fall semester.

The flooding served as a "trial by fire" for the organization, according to Salmi.

"Within 48 hours, we had something like 250 people come out and help," he said. "They weren't trained volunteers. They just picked up mops and buckets and started cleaning."

Alli Beversdorf was one of 16 Austin-based employees from pharmaceutical company Lilly who recently volunteered to help in the cleanup efforts. The sales rep said she and the others had a personal reason for wanting to pitch in.

"Laura McComb was a sales rep in our Corpus Christi office," Beversdorf said, referring to a 34-year-old mother of two who, with her family, was swept away in flooding along the Blanco River. "I'd never worked with Laura, but my boss had."

McComb's husband, Jonathan, was severely injured but survived. The body of the couple's 7-year-old son Jonathan was later recovered from wreckage downstream. Their 4-year-old daughter Leighton remains missing.

The group helped clear a couple's home that is scheduled to be demolished, eventually building a 4-foot-high pile of dirt and debris to be picked up by the county, according to Beversdorf.

"While we were working, a neighbor came by with a service plaque the man had been awarded," she said. "He told us he'd found it in his yard and that he lived about a mile and a half away."

Courtney Goss from the Wimberley Volunteer Response Center said about 400 homes in Wimberley suffered water damage and that 70 were lifted completely off their slabs. So far, only seven have been "closed out," meaning they've either been demolished or have been cleaned out enough to begin renovation.

In the Wagon Wheel II neighborhood, hard by the now-placid Blanco River, Alice Wightman wandered through her flood-ravaged home. The house was designed by architect George L. Walling, and she'd hoped to have it recognized as a historic structure. Then came the flood.

The floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river are all gone, smashed by the floodwaters. And while the distinctive cantilevered roofline survived, portions of the exterior brick walls have collapsed, revealing the wooden planks beneath.

"There were a lot of people here initially," she said. "One young man came and said he had a brand-new chain saw and wanted to help. He was here for days removing trees and branches from inside the house and across the yard. Now that the volunteers are gone, this is the loneliest part of the job."

She said she hopes that the local architecture community will take an interest in the home and that perhaps a buyer will come along with the means to return it to its former glory.

For now, all she has is a beautiful view of the river.


Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com

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