Refugio County recovery slow but steady

Amber Aldaco By Amber Aldaco

Feb. 3, 2018 at 9:51 p.m.
Updated Feb. 5, 2018 at 6 a.m.

A photo of Maria Alaniz and then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry is displayed in Alaniz's home. The house was heavily damaged during Hurricane Harvey. The back portion of the structure has shifted since the storm, causing walls to crack and rooms to separate from each other. Alaniz doesn't have any family in the area and lives alone. Friends and neighbors have stepped up to lend support for the disabled 72-year-old. Alaniz said she doesn't know what she would do without the generosity of others.

A photo of Maria Alaniz and then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry is displayed in Alaniz's home. The house was heavily damaged during Hurricane Harvey. The back portion of the structure has shifted since the storm, causing walls to crack and rooms to separate from each other. Alaniz doesn't have any family in the area and lives alone. Friends and neighbors have stepped up to lend support for the disabled 72-year-old. Alaniz said she doesn't know what she would do without the generosity of others.   Evan Lewis for The Victoria Advocate

REFUGIO - The blue tarp flapped on the roof of Maria Alaniz's home Thursday afternoon as a cool breeze swept through town.

The longtime Refugio resident and former restaurant owner, wearing an orange Bobcat shirt, rested in her mother's dark green recliner as she recalled how Hurricane Harvey took her roof.

Alaniz wasn't in town for the hurricane, but she didn't have to be - Harvey's damage is still present in her home. Nails that once held a large mirror now droop on the wall, a result of the Sheetrock softening from the water that has leaked into her walls.

"When it's windy, the tarp starts flapping. The faster the wind, the louder the sound," Alaniz, 72, said. "It's keeping most of the rain out right now."

Alaniz is one of thousands of people in the Crossroads still recovering Hurricane Harvey.

In Refugio County, leaders are helping to both rebuild city infrastructure and personal property.

Down the road in Woodsboro, the small town is slowly getting back on its feet. Though most short-term needs have been met, the town is now looking into long-term needs, said Mayor Kay Roach. The town is looking forward to having volunteers coming into town through the Refugio County Volunteer Reception Center. The center, established in November, helps connect residents with unmet needs with volunteers who travel to the community to help with recovery.

Roach said a group of 300 volunteers will travel to Refugio County this summer and will be dispersed throughout the county in different facilities.

"They're going to try to fulfill as much as they can," Roach said.

Though a previous volunteer group stationed in Woodsboro, Grunt Style, has moved on, the organization still has contractors in town. The group is rebuilding the Eagle's Nest, a community center that was used as a distribution center after Harvey. The Eagle's Nest is expected to reopen sometime this year, Roach said.

The group helped at least 200 people in Woodsboro, she said.

The town is also in the process of applying for grants and has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Tarps and ply wood aren't just present on the roofs of homes - city buildings, such as the Woodsboro Volunteer Fire Department Station, also suffered major damage.

Not having working city buildings has been a little frustrating, Roach said.

"It's a process because half of Texas needs things," Roach said. "It's a long, slow, tedious process."

The fire station lost its roof during the storm. For now, the station's roof is covered with ply wood until the rebuilding process can begin. When the roof blew off, the rain poured in, damaging fire gear, radios, laptops, a printer, and bunker parts.

"Everything is pretty much molded inside," said Jason Andrade, Woodsboro Volunteer Fire Department captain.

Andrade said the fire department received donations of fire gear and fire hoses from fire departments throughout the state. But not having a station has been a little rough for the crew of about 15, he said. The volunteer firefighters have to meet at other places, such as the Dairy Queen on the highway.

"We do what we can," Andrade said.

Back in Refugio, Alaniz, too, did what she could do on her own for as long as she could. When she returned to Refugio after evacuating to Beeville, she'd fill up buckets with water to flush out her toilet and for cleaning. She was without electricity for several days, and her mattress received water damage as well. The laundry room, located at the back of her home, has also started separating from the rest of her home. She covered up the cracks, but since she is unable to use her right arm because of injury suffered in a car accident years ago, Alaniz can only do so much.

Neighbors also do what they can to lend Alaniz a hand, such as cutting her grass.

Refugio Police Department officers, Refugio County Sheriff's deputies, and neighbors would also bring by food and water after Harvey. They'd bring her ice too, she said.

"Ice was so important, I was grateful they would come by with some," Alaniz said. "It was so hot after the storm. I'd get a piece of cardboard and fan myself, and make sure the ice didn't melt."

She received funds from FEMA, but the amount was not enough to cover repair costs for her whole home.

"People come by who want to fix the roof and want to charge thousands. And then with everything else I have to fix...The funds won't be enough," Alaniz said.

Alaniz was directed to the Refugio Volunteer Reception Center, who were able to get Alaniz in contact with a volunteer with the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

The volunteers are going to figure out what needs to be done and how, Alaniz said.

A new mattress was also donated to her, she said. The frame was even welded with an extension when it was discovered that the mattress was a little too long, she said.

Alaniz said she hopes volunteers will be able to help repair her home so she can move on with her life.

This is the first time Alaniz has experienced damage of this magnitude from a storm, she said. Without the volunteers and the help of her neighbors and community leaders, she said she didn't know what she'd do.

"Refugio has been good to me. I had no idea I had so many friends," Alaniz said.


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