Community comes together to help Clark family in aftermath of Llano River flooding

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By Rachel Madison

KINGSLAND — When John and Shanna Clark woke up last Tuesday morning, they did what many people do on a typical morning. They made coffee, let their dog outside and talked about their plans for the day. But their morning wound up being anything but typical.

Within hours, their home was destroyed in the Llano River flood. That morning, the river crested at nearly 40 feet—the highest it had been in at least 80 years.

“We knew there was heavy rain coming, so we got up early, around 5 a.m.,” John Clark said. “The water wasn’t even hardly out of the canal at that time, so we went back to drinking our coffee and making plans to drive in to Liberty Hill. At about 6:15 a.m., Shanna went to go let our dog out and started hollering that the water was coming into our boat house. At that point it was about 10 feet up out of the canal.”

About an hour later, around 7:15 a.m., the Clarks went back outside and saw that the water had risen to their back porch. That’s when they knew they needed to get to higher ground. They got their dog, packed some clothing and headed up the hill from their home, which was located right near the FM 2900 bridge that collapsed and was washed away by floodwaters later that morning.

“By the time we got to the top of the hill we saw the water was pouring into our house,” he said. “To get into our house it had to be up 37 feet. In a matter of two hours it came up that fast. We ultimately had about 32 inches of water inside the house.”

The Clarks didn’t know how to get out of the area. They had only lived in Kingsland since July when they made the move from Liberty Hill, and the only routes out of the town they knew about were already under water. They watched as an elderly couple was rescued right in front of their home, and about an hour later, a police officer came by and told them they needed to get out of town right away.

“He said there was still one way out, so we followed the police officer and headed to Liberty Hill,” John Clark said.

The Clarks are now staying with friends in Liberty Hill until they can get back on their feet.

The couple has deep roots in Liberty Hill. They lived in the area until July, when they decided to move to Kingsland to explore what it would be like to live on the lake since both of their children had graduated from high school and were out of the house. Although they moved out of Liberty Hill, they both still work in town. Shanna Clark is a library clerk at the Liberty Hill Public Library, and John Clark owns and runs Sunup Insurance Services.

In addition to that, John Clark has served on numerous boards and committees in Liberty Hill, including the Liberty Hill Independent School District Education Improvement Council, Student Health Advisory Council, Liberty Fit program, Liberty Hill Public Library Board, and the City of Liberty Hill’s Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors.

After a couple of days in Liberty Hill, the Clarks headed back to Kingsland to assess the damage to their home.

“We went back Thursday morning, and the damage was unbelievable,” he said. “It’s exactly what you see on TV when you see that stuff. Our washing machine was turned upside down; our fridge was turned upside down. Our furniture was all over the house. We never expected the water to come up 39 feet, so everything ended up floating around. We found our patio furniture down the street. Items of other people’s was in our yard. There were boats flipped everywhere, smashed up and turned upside down. It was utter madness and chaos.”

The Clarks went through their belongings the best they could, and then went back on Friday and Saturday to go through their house again. On Friday, friends from Operation Liberty Hill came to help. On Saturday, Liberty Hill resident Jared Sudekum and members of his church came in and helped with much of the heavy lifting of furniture and other items.

“Our boat house, even though it was on a slab, was lifted completely off the slab and had about 8 feet of water in it,” John Clark said. “They helped clean that out and clean the house out. I didn’t know a single one of them, but they came and cleaned all that up.”

The Clarks’ youngest son is currently serving in the Marines overseas, but two of his good friends also came to help over the weekend.

“We’ve had all kinds of different help. An organization out of Liberty Hill, L4 Cares, went all the way to Round Rock to find a pair of rubber boots that would fit me because I wear a size 15 and we couldn’t find any anywhere,” John Clark said. “It’s been extremely humbling.”

The Clarks lost about 90 percent of what they owned. The water that rushed into their home included sewer water.

“It’s disgusting,” John Clark said. “It stinks and it’s not cleanable. It’s contaminated water, so if it was touched by the water, it’s pretty much destroyed.”

He said much of what they had was just “stuff,” like the couches and appliances, but other things they lost did matter because of the memories associated with them.

“We had both our boys’ chest of drawers and they are gone,” he said. “Those things matter and that’s the hard part. When stuff like that, or Grandma’s china gets broke, you lose pieces of that, and that hurts because those are fond memories. We are choosing to focus on how many photos we did get to save, because it’s really the pictures that mean a lot.”

Because the Clarks lost so much in the flood, numerous people in the Liberty Hill community have stepped up to help them with donations.

The Liberty Hill Public Library is asking for donations of gift cards or cash for the Clarks, and is able to take donations over the phone or via PayPal. All money donated will be given directly to the family. The library is also accepting the donation of plastic totes and bubble wrap to help the Clarks with transporting the items they were able to salvage from their home.

The Clarks’ niece, Brittany Straughan, has also created a GoFundMe campaign for the family to help them get back on their feet. The campaign is asking for $5,000, and as of Oct. 23 at noon, it had raised $3,900 from 45 people in six days.

John Clark said many people they don’t know have donated to them as well, including a young boy who donated $36 he had been saving to buy a GoPro. A family from Houston, who had just put much of their furniture in storage, offered to give to the Clarks.

“You think you know what humility is, but you really don’t until you have people show up for you in this way,” John Clark said. “When your kids’ friends come to help, or a young kid gives up his GoPro, or when a group of people show up to help that we don’t even know, that’s when you really understand humility. There’s so much power in that.”

He added that he keeps thinking of the final scene in one of his favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when George Bailey realizes he’s the richest man in town, but it has nothing to do with money.

“That’s how I feel,” John Clark said. “I’m George Bailey. God has better plans for us. We look at this as a cleansing process. I know there are greater things that will come out of it. That’s how we choose to look at it. As crazy as it is, we feel like we’ve been lifted up, not down. I hope others can do that for somebody else out there if they need help. Whether it’s this flood or a fire or a family tragedy, lift them up.”

The Clarks plan on staying with their friends in Liberty Hill through the holidays, and then they’ll decide where to go from there.

“We’re not sure where we are going to go, but we are thinking about coming back home to Liberty Hill,” John Clark said. “We’ll figure it out. Our needs are not great right now. When we were out there going through our home, some of those other families didn’t have anyone there to help. We just ask that if you know someone else who needs help, that would be a great support because we are in good shape.”

To donate through the Liberty Hill Public Library, call (512) 778-6400 or email librarian@lhpl.org. To make a donation through the GoFundMe campaign.

Rachel@LHIndependent.com

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