Spring floods in Texas took the state from a 4-year drought to major flooding in a matter of days. Dozens of lives were lost, almost 1,000 homes were destroyed or majorly damaged, and over $43 million worth of infrastructure damage altered the daily lives of Texans, according to official reports. The flooding made national headlines for about a week until something more newsworthy took over.
As a reservist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), I’ve been working in Texas for the last few months in response to the floods. I only work for FEMA when I’m called to respond to a disaster that occurs anywhere in the United States. It’s a fascinating job as every disaster is different and I’m constantly learning something new.
The time it takes to recover from a flood like this is longer than most people think. Once the news crews leave, the rest of the world begins to forget and moves on. Those who are least-affected will be dealing with it for months at best, while many victims are likely to face years of recovery.
Three months after the floods hit, I was deployed to Texas. The immediate response part of the disaster was over, but the long term recovery was just beginning, which is the work I do. I work with the local communities to help them implement mitigation measures, which means building back better so the same thing doesn’t happen again during the next disaster. I have been all over north Texas looking at flood damage, and am continually impressed to see the type of damage water can do. At the time of writing this, six months after the fact, I still see washed out roads, compromised bridges and massive erosion on a daily basis. And before some repairs could be made, more rain came in October, making a bad situation even worse.
While the physical damage can usually be repaired, the emotional toll takes much more time and effort. Just because someone has their house rebuilt, doesn’t mean they are not still suffering on the inside. I saw a news clip the other day about a man in Wimberley, Texas that had lost his entire family during the floods. It’s a testament to the intensity of such an incident and one can’t even begin to imagine the pain of his loss. He is quoted as saying, “I am just humbled by all the love and support from everybody, and all the humanity.” Indeed, it takes a community to provide the emotional support at that level now, and for years to come.