Many Texans are still feeling the effects of heavy rains this fall. In the Hill Country, places like Kingsland and Marble Falls are picking up the pieces after the Llano River breached its banks. The city of Austin is in the midst of a full-scale review into why its water treatment system was overwhelmed for nearly a week. And then there’s Sonora, a town of about 2,700 people an hour south of San Angelo which was hit by a catastrophic flood just over a month ago.
More Than A Month After Sonora Flooded, Residents Still Haven’t Begun To Rebuild
Most Sonora residents didn’t have flood insurance. Though the town sits in a floodplain, residents had never experienced this level of flooding.
There isn’t much left inside Mary Perez’ single-story house on Plum Street, so she’s giving me a tour of what used to be there.
“The sink was here, the dishwasher was here, the pantry was there. We had a refrigerator here and another refrigerator back there,” Perez says.
Mary and her family have lived in the house for 39 years, it’s on the same spot where her husband Frank grew up. It’s still home, despite the fact that almost everything has been removed from the house. The Perez house is one of about 200 that flooded on the afternoon of September 21. Inside, it looks like most houses in the neighborhood these days. All the appliances are gone. Every room has had at least a couple feet of sheet rock and insulation removed. Others have undergone a more drastic overhaul.
“This was the master – is, is the master bedroom. And as you can see it was completely gutted out as well,” she says.
The Perez house sits near the intersection of two usually dry creekbeds that run through the town. Previous rains saturated the soil, and the creekbeds quickly filled with water on the Friday of the flood. No one had ever seen that happen before, although this part of Sonora does sit in a floodplain. Mary and Frank waited out the flood at Sonora’s Dairy Queen, and when they got back, there was over a foot of water in their house. The flood didn’t physically harm anyone, but anything the water touched had to be thrown out. The sound of whirring fans has filled Mary and Frank’s house ever since, occasionally punctuated by this noise:
“Oh come on…it’s around 15,” Frank says.
He’s using a moisture meter. Frank’s been sticking the gadget into exposed studs for over a month now, but the wood always comes back as too wet. It’s barely stopped raining in Sonora since the flood, which has made it impossible for many people to rebuild. If a structure is too moist during reconstruction, that can lead to problems down the road with mold.
“It’s overwhelming I can definitely tell you that much,” says Briggs Simms, Sonora’s only code enforcement officer.
“There’s a lot of people getting pretty aggravated,” Simms says. “They want to get back in their homes. They don’t have the money to stay in hotels or stay with family. They really just don’t have anywhere else to go, but every time I go to check it’s still really wet.”
The waiting game is tedious and expensive, especially since most affected homeowners didn’t have flood insurance. Local charities have raised some money to help with the rebuild, but it won’t be enough to keep everyone in Sonora.
“Several people are just like, they don’t have the money to rebuild,” Simms says. “They’re packing up and they’re moving somewhere else. They don’t have money to buy another home, they’re having to move on.”
Isabelle Navarrete and her mom, Maria Quiroz hope they don’t have to move on. Next to the door of their wide, light-blue house, someone had written a message in chalk reading ‘Quiroz house forever’. The interior was completely gutted, so Maria and Isabelle were sittign under the carport, sorting through items they’d been able to salvage. It’s been like this for weeks, and Isabelle is uncertain when they’ll be able to move forward.
“We don’t know how much help we’re going to get, and then we still gotta pick up the house according to the code, and you know that’s going to cost too. So it’s, it’s been hard,” Navarrete says.
This has been an especially hard year for their family. Maria’s husband Cleofas died in April.
“I guess we haven’t been able to yet mourn my dad’s going since he just died in April,” she says. “And then this happens and so it’s like, you don’t have no emotions as far as I can say.”
Isabelle was unsure whether there were even any physical mementos left of her dad after the flood. I walked with her to a little tan shed in the backyard that she hadn’t looked through much yet. It was dark and cramped inside. It’s filled with moving boxes, old toys, some ruined photos, and also…
“Oh look! It’s an old one,” she says.
She finds a little wooden brown box, with a couple hinged flaps on the top: a shoe shine kit, that belonged to her dad.
“It was a thing he did for the weekends. It was his going out to town boots. Oh my gosh,” she says.
There’s more, too, hung near the top of the shed, blending in with the wood interior.
“Those were his – oh my God – his crutches! Oh my God! Those are centuries old, as you can tell. Look at that. You don’t see the wooden ones like that anymore,” Quiroz says.
It’s not that Cleofas got hurt that much, he just wasn’t the kind of guy to throw things away – something Isabelle and Maria are thankful for now. It will take years for them and others in Sonora to recover. And with more rain in the forecast, reconstruction will have to keep waiting. But on this particular afternoon, in front of the Quiroz family home, it’s sunny outside.