by Dale Freeman, Tyler County Emergency Management Coordinator
As we celebrate Independence Day, we celebrate Freedom and remember the sacrifices that have been made to give that to us. Through those sacrifices, we have created a Nation of People working together for the common good. Although I am not in agreement with everything our Government does, I do know that by standing together, we are all stronger.
As an example of how this works, I note that there are many among us in Tyler County that are still recovering from the disasters that have fallen upon us. We in Tyler County are very resilient and we get through things. However, we do have and need help in the process.
To review the situations, a year ago, (May 2015) we had a flood that pushed the level of the Neches River to an elevation of 73.50 feet at the Town Bluff River Gauge. This is the ninth highest level recorded and the sixth highest since the erection of the Town Bluff Dam. Again in March of this year, the river rose to 76.12 feet. This was the seventh highest recorded and the fourth highest since Town Bluff Dam has been in place.
Following that, in April, we had a line of windstorms that included several tornadoes pass through the County. Many homes and lots of property was damaged with some homes destroyed. Then again in May we had massive rains that caused the Creeks to swell from their banks invading homes and property that do not normally flood.
The rains caused the dam at Lake Amada to fail and resulted in the loss of their lake. Emergency Responders were making swift water rescues and evacuations by boat of persons from the flooded areas. The water rushed into the Neches River and Lake Steinhagen causing the River Gauge downstream of the Town Bluff to rise to 75.65 Feet. Although this is recorded as one event, the level fell to 69 feet in several days until the waters from like heavy rains on the headwaters of the Neches River brought it back up to almost 75 feet. That would be the fifth highest level of the river since the creation of the Town Bluff Dam.
In all of these situations, the American Red Cross was on scene working to help those affected by these disasters. Supplies were distributed and shelters were provided to those who needed a place to stay during the mandatory evacuations. We are very fortunate to have our friends at the American Red Cross working with us.
During some of these events, the County has declared a disaster and made appeal to the State for assistance. There were many Texas counties that suffered similar and worse damages even some with loss of life.
The State, on behalf of Tyler County and the other devasted counties, appealed to the Federal Government for assistance. The assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) came sometimes in the form of "Public Assistance," where funds were given for the repairs of our roads and infrastructure. Some of the events received approval for "Individual Assistance" as well. This "Individual Assistance" is where FEMA provides help directly to the individual citizens. The assistance is given regarding the need and the ability to recover using our own resources.
When the disaster overwhelms our ability to recover, the government provides assistance to get back to the pre disaster condition. Sometimes the assistance is given in the form of a low interest loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Certainly, having a disaster should not be looked upon as a windfall to get money from the government.
Individual assistance was approved in the March flood and again in the latest flood event of May, both occurring this year.
I was not in this (EMC) position for the March Event, but have been engaged for the windstorm of April and now the floods of May. Tyler County Emergency Management has worked in conjunction with FEMA to compile a list of victims and assisted FEMA in contacting these individuals to begin assistance efforts for them.
This past Friday and Saturday, July 1st and 2nd, we met with representatives of FEMA at the mailboxes at the end of County Road 4410 and the entrance to the Barlow Lake Estates Subdivision. The representatives were able to meet with victims and discuss their "Individual Assistance" claims. The representatives had the ability to access not only records of this latest event but also claims from the previous March flood event.
I heard some of the victims stating that they were just now receiving checks for the looses of the March Flood event.
I also met with FEMA Representatives at the Emergency Operations Center. We are working toward setting up a temporary office where victims can come in to discuss their situations with FEMA. This is in the works.
Finally I will meet with the County Commissioner's and Colmesneil City Officials and FEMA Representatives this next week to verify the "Public Assistance" claims filed for the latest Flood Event.
There is a lot going on and it takes a lot of time to get through the processes. Please be patient and keep plugging away at the task. I have talked with a lot of the FEMA people and I am convinced they want to help. They do have perimeters in their assignments that they can't go beyond. However, if you have something that you think should be covered, keep presenting it to them in a respectful way and help them understand your need. Sometimes the same situation can be presented a different way that will work. They will try to find a way to get some help if possible.
Anyone having flooding losses during the May Flooding event, who has not already done so,should call the Tyler County Emergency Management Office to have your name added to our list. We will follow your claim to insure that you have been contacted and received the attention that is needed to help you recover. I am told that FEMA will be doing a "blitz" of Tyler County this next week to contact any persons not yet contacted.
As an afterthought, I want to thank all of the citizens of Tyler County who have offered support and help to your neighbors in their time of need. Your support through all of this is most important in surviving a Disaster.