One Year Later: Shaken And Torn, Wimberley Remains Strong
It’s been a year since Memorial Day weekend flood waters barreled down the Blanco River near Wimberley, sweeping away homes and killing 12 people.
One year later, Wimberley residents are now better prepared for a major flood, but like shell-shocked soldiers, they still struggle with what happened.
Wimberley homeowner Mack Stringfellow will never forget what he heard from his bedroom window, as the fast moving waters pushed aside the concrete and steel beams of the Fisher Store Bridge, sweeping it down stream.
“It was a huge cracking and popping and it sounded like either a house coming down or a bridge being washed away," Stringfellow says.
The raging waters swept away homes, cars and giant cypress trees. Then they began to fill Stringfellow’s home which stands almost 200 feet above the banks of the river.
“We waded out in about waist-deep water and then about 1:3o that morning the water went down and I was able to get back in the house and the high-water mark inside the house was about 8 feet," Stringfellow explains.
One year later, Stringfellow isn’t the only Wimberley resident still struggling with what happened.
David Wynne is a former reporter for The Economist magazine. He says he’s unable to leave the crystal clear waters of the Blanco, but they also terrify him, especially when he hears a clap of thunder or senses the river is once again rising.
A doctor has diagnosed Wynne, this past year, with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Initially you find yourself avoiding places, I found myself avoiding River Road, I just couldn’t be around that destruction. And you’d find yourself just shaking uncontrollably when thunder would come in the middle of the night, that still happens some, but I’ve become suspicious of all these weather patterns now and I watch them pretty closely," Wynne explains.
Wimberley Fire Chief Carroll Czichos still remembers the danger faced by emergency responders as they tried to rescue stranded residents. In the past year United States Geological Survey teams have installed three flood gauges that measure the water levels upstream and send photos. Czichos says the flood sensors should warn residents of major flooding 8 to 10 hours before it hits.
“So that gives us a little bit of an early warning that can tell us when the flood is going to hit and exactly how much it is. So we don’t have rely on farmers or ranchers calling in, saying ‘Hey it’s on the tree,’ Czichos says.
Wimberley’s emergency responders also have a drone that’s been used to map flood-prone areas. They’ve also been promised a siren system that would sound when flood waters are approaching.
And while a some properties on River Road are still vacant and damaged, Realtor Clay Ewing says that’s partly because owners can’t afford the new federal requirements for flood insurance.
Ewing says many properties near the river are actually selling for as much or more than they sold for before last year’s flood.
"The sales prices are within a dollar of what they were from 2014 to the day before the flood," Ewing explains.
Wimberley Fire Chief Czichos recently sold his riverfront property to outside investors. He thinks many of those buying believe the killer flood was just a “freak” event, something that would only happen every 140 years.
“You know, whether that ever happens again, I don’t know. I guess if we got 20 inches of rain in just the right spot, yeah it’s going to come down again. Whether people’s houses are down there, as long as people can get out I could care less about the houses," Czichos explains.
But David Wynne, the former reporter , believes new warning systems and updated emergency procedures will be needed.
“So far this year, if there had been multiple storms that had they been a few miles farther north or a few miles farther south, we would’ve gotten nailed again. It’s going to happen again, I think the chances that it will happen again are far greater," Wynne says.
On this Memorial Day, Wynne says he’s prepared.
The Wimberley residents who lived through last year’s flood and stayed will never again barbeque along the river’s edge and play in the shallow current, without remembering how quickly a scenic river can become a raging killer.