Liberty Hill stepping up to help Harvey victims
By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
For Liberty Hill, it was a weekend storm. For the coast of Texas, it was a catastrophic downpour leading to floods that some officials are calling the worst in the state’s history.
Overthrown trees, and loose electrical lines dominate the scene at the rural community of Seadrift, says Liberty Hill real estate broker Randy O’Dell. This coastal town, roughly the size of Liberty Hill, “got a good licking,” he says.
The homes there are without electricity or water. There is extensive property damage, but no reported deaths. O’Dell says most of the people here will return to their homes.
He arrived to the town’s community center Monday morning in a van with six other volunteers, as a part of the Williamson County Salvation Army Mobile Canteen, the local chapter of a disaster relief food program. They quickly set to work transforming the boarded-up building, which also serves as the town hall, into a temporary kitchen.
The turkey dressing and green salad they plan to serve to 250 for lunch will, he thinks, will be the residents’ first hot meal in days.
Tuesday, they planned to serve a dinner of chicken and shrimp gumbo to 400.
Saturday six volunteers will be swapped out with another six from the 35 in the program. O’Dell says almost all are from Williamson County, and many from Liberty Hill.
As for himself, the program’s coordinator, O’Dell says he plans to stay on as long as he needs to. “Just like the Energizer bunny,” he says.
Due to the rivers positioned on Seadrift, he expects a flood to come soon.
As of Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates more than 30,000 people have or will seek refuge in temporary shelters.
One hundred miles up the coast from Seadrift, a weather station in the southeast section of Houston measured 49 inches of rain from Tropical Storm Harvey. If the station’s preliminary report is confirmed, it will break the record for the greatest amount of rain recorded from a single storm or hurricane in the continental United States.
“We have not seen an event like this,” William Long, administrator of FEMA, said Monday at a news briefing. “You could not draw this forecast up. You could not dream this forecast up.”
Meanwhile far inland, Harvey’s impact on Liberty Hill was significantly more mild.
A weather station one mile west of Ronald Reagan Boulevard measured a total rainfall of 4.66 inches from Thursday to Sunday.
Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 Chief Anthony Lincoln said that Liberty Hill’s fire district received no flood calls, or any noticeable increase in call volume.
“I even checked with my battalion commander to be sure,” he said.
But while Liberty Hill saw few direct impacts from Harvey, the images and phone calls flooding in from friends and family on the coast have exerted a force of their own.
Some in town are reminded of the aid efforts Liberty Hill played in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The Liberty Hill Intermediate School, which was then the middle school, served as a temporary shelter for some of Williamson County’s estimated 12-15,000 Katrina evacuees.
Liberty Hill ISD fed them. The Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department, under former Fire Chief James Pogue and his wife, Leslye, brought blankets and supplies that were donated by residents and businesses in the community.
In the aftermath of Harvey, Liberty Hill Mayor Connie Fuller said she wished the city could play a similar role.
Fuller herself grew up on the Texas Coast, and lived in Houston until she was 10 years old. She says she remembers Hurricane Carla when it arrived in 1961 as a Category 4.
“So many homes were destroyed where I lived,” Fuller said. “And even if your house is still standing, it’s such a mess. It’s so tragic.”
Under Williamson County’s new emergency management system, no buildings in Liberty Hill have received the necessary inspections to be used as official shelters.
Liberty Hill folded its emergency management into Williamson County’s system earlier this year, which itself was reorganized following Katrina. The city is still in the process of being included in the county’s warning system.
Liberty Hill saw flooding on a comparatively smaller scale in 2007, when repeated heavy rains caused the South San Gabriel River to rise by more than 31 feet.
Several helicopter rescues were required, including for a Liberty Hill police officer.
An article at the time in the Williamson County Sun reported that five people were rescued by the Liberty Hill Fire Department on West Bear Creek Road alone, near the North Fork of the San Gabriel River.
For Harvey, Liberty Hill’s publicly-funded entities have so far not been asked to play any role in relief efforts.
No requests for support have been made to the City of Liberty Hill, said Williamson County Emergency Management Coordinator Jarred Thomas.
Fire Chief Lincoln said that his department had not received any requests, although the department has 15 firefighters with swiftwater rescue training.
Liberty Hill Police Chief Maverick Campbell said in a text that his department did not receive any requests, “but we stand ready to assist if staffing permits it here in Liberty Hill.”
“This community has such a giving spirit,” the Mayor said. “Anybody that needs help would see that coming here.”
Meanwhile in Austin, state officials have asked that city to prepare to house as many as 7,000 evacuees from Hurricane Harvey. Austin Mayor Steve Adler on Monday said they are still determining how many they’re prepared to take.