Thursday, October 14, 2021

City of Austin Reaffirms its Commitment to Building a Flood Resilient Community

Approaching the anniversaries of the devastating Halloween Floods of 2013 and 2015, City Council passes a resolution to increase emergency preparedness, flood mitigation and more

On Thursday, Oct. 14, Austin City Council unanimously passed a resolution (Item 48) reaffirming the City's commitment to building a flood resilient community. The policy will bring both immediate relief and focus on long-term plans, specifically addressing floodproofing, flood insurance, emergency preparedness and a memorial marker and mural.

For District 2 resident Frances Acuña, these changes can't come soon enough.

"When you see people covered in mud head to toe with no water, no food, you take it upon yourself to help," Acuña says. "You don't have words for people. You just try to help them."

During the 2013 Halloween Austin floods, Acuña witnessed firsthand the devastation that took place in the Onion Creek area when venturing out after the storm in order to get her children.

"William Cannon was closed. Pleasant Valley was closed. Bluff Springs was closed. I had to go around to Slaughter Lane to pick up my kids."

From that point on, she took her small pick-up truck to gather whatever she could to assist her neighbors in need.

"It looked like the end of the world—cars all over the place, refrigerators too," she says. "People were crying. It was devastating. I had never seen anything like this, not even in movies."

It's stories like these that District 2 Councilwoman Vanessa Fuentes heard on the campaign trail last year—stories that haven't stopped since. Her first policy initiative as a Council Member earlier this year called on City staff for "a resilient and equitable community plan to address the economic and social recovery of individuals experiencing devastating impact from flood events."

"We've already seen the havoc flooding can do to our city," Fuentes says. "We're just one storm away from another disaster and District 2 continues to be at the greatest risk. We have a duty to protect our communities." 

In fact, it was only two years after the 2013 storm that Southeast Austin once again felt the fury of flooding in their community.

Acuña was on the ground too during the Halloween Flood of 2015. She shares heartbreaking stories of neighbors who made difficult decisions such as having to let the family dog go in order to save a child.

"You have to be ready for a disaster," she says. "Know your surroundings, your exits. You need to have disaster preparedness. At that moment you're not thinking."

As a community advocate, Acuña now works for Go Austin/Vamos Austin as a climate resilience community lead organizer. She wants to see more preparedness training and affordable flood insurance for Austinites. "People in my neighborhood get flooded every other year, this is a recurring thing."

Today's resolution does just that. It directs the City Manager to do the following:
  • Identify funding opportunities and inform the community on available funding to flood proof properties for tenants and homeowners
  • Install a Halloween Flood memorial in Onion Creek Metropolitan Park in remembrance of the lives and property lost during the 2013 and 2015 Halloween Floods
  • Contract opportunities to provide community emergency preparedness and response training
  • Advocate and secure support for affordable flood insurance for renters and homeowners
"We need immediate action to ensure our homes are protected, this is both the physical structures and surrounding areas, as well as with affordable flood insurance," Fuentes says. "It's important we honor those who have already been impacted, from displacement to the tragic loss of lives. Our community still lives with the pain of these floods."

The resolution was authored by Council Member Vanessa Fuentes and co-sponsors include Mayor Steve Adler, Council Member Alison Alter, Council Member Ann Kitchen, Council Member Leslie Pool, Council Member Paige Ellis, and Council Member Greg Casar.