La Grange, Smithville res­i­dents re­turn and find homes ru­ined

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Sonja Gillert Spe­cial to the Statesman and Mary Hu­ber mhu­ber@ac­n­news­pa­pers.com

After evac­u­at­ing in a hurry on Sun­day, Fran­cisco Obre­gon re­turned home Wed­nes­day to see what was left.

Flood­wa­ters had knocked over his re­frig­er­a­tor and washed his bed­room pil­lows down the hall­way of his mo­bile home. A huge wooden shelf had fallen on his soak­ing wet bed.

“I have lost ev­ery­thing,” said Obre­gon, walk­ing care­fully with his high boots across a moldy floor that had caved in in two spots.

The Colorado Land­ing RV Park in La Grange was de­stroyed by the flood­ing of the nearby Colorado River, which crested Mon­day at 54.2 feet after the down­pour from Har­vey. About 500 homes were dam­aged in a town of 4,700 peo­ple.

On the south side of the river, Matthew Jaster and An’na Loehr were dry­ing out their be­long­ings in the drive­way: a ta­ble, some chairs, a few blan­kets, and pho­to­graphs of their chil­dren.

When the cou­ple first saw the dam­age Tues­day night, Loehr said, “We broke down.”

The flood­wa­ters over the week­end had nearly swal­lowed up the home they rent. The win­dows shat­tered. Half of their bed­room wall is miss­ing. Their dresser washed away.

Fayette County Judge Ed Ja­necka, who told the cou­ple Satur­day to evac­u­ate, stopped by Wed­nes­day to apol­o­gize he wasn’t able to give them more time to pack.

“You can’t guess Mother Na­ture,” Jaster said.

About 20 miles up­stream in Smithville, piles of soggy car­pet lined North­east Sev­enth Street, where about 30 vol­un­teers be­gan clean­ing out homes that were drenched with flood­wa­ter.

A group from the Delhi Church in Rosanky be­gan clear­ing fur­ni­ture, tear­ing out car­pets and base­boards and sweep­ing the floors. A large fan hummed rhyth­mi­cally in the bed­room.

Tom Key, who has lived in the home 17 years, stood in the front yard Tues­day morn­ing with work gloves on and re­counted a list of the times his house has flooded in the past two years. Satur­day made five.

After flood­ing in 2015 and 2016, Smithville ap­plied for a fed­eral grant to build a de­ten­tion pond at the end of North­east Sev­enth, near Mar­burger Street. Crews were half­way fin­ished with the project when Har­vey ar­rived. The 14-foot pond filled with wa­ter, but as rain­fall to­tals climbed to 22 inches, there was nowhere else for it to go, City Man­ager Robert Tam­ble said.

Twenty homes on the street were flooded.

“I don’t care whether you have two de­ten­tion ponds. I don’t think with this rain it would have made any dif­fer­ence,” Key said. “You can’t just keep rain­ing, rain­ing, rain­ing and not flood some­body.”

The rem­nants of the storm re­main ob­vi­ous this week, with hoses still snaking down Mar­burger Street at­tached to pumps drain­ing wa­ter from the pond. Garbage dump­sters line the street. A cou­ple from Wim­ber­ley who flooded in the Me­mo­rial Day storm in 2015 ar­rived to help clean up, along with two women from Lex­ing­ton, one of them a teacher in the Smithville district.

The Texas Bap­tist Men’s Group spear­headed vol­un­teer ef­forts, with help from res­i­dents and church groups that reached out to the Smithville Cham­ber of Com­merce. Key thanked the or­ga­ni­za­tions for help­ing out.

“I don’t know what we would have done with­out them,” he said.

RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMER­I­CAN-STATESMAN

An’na Loehr and her hus­band, Matthew Jaster, be­gin try­ing to sal­vage their flooded home Wed­nes­day in La Grange. The cou­ple first dis­cov­ered the dam­age Tues­day night. “We broke down,” Loehr said.

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