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Wimberley is and will always be a special place in my life. I spent many summers in my early 20’s hanging from rope swings and jumping off giant cypress trees into the Blanco River, a river that locals warned me would never be as deep as it used to be. I was 19 when I first drove to this Hill Country town with my girlfriend from Dallas. Her father chose to live in Wimberley after a stressful life and career in the DFW metro area and always said that Wimberley calmed him down, and was the best decision he ever made for him and his family. He lived near River Road, the kind of road that takes sudden and unsuspecting turns through the plethora of cypress trees, and travels alongside the usually docile Blanco River.
When I heard about the flooding that took place this weekend, I decided to return there and document the damage (see photo gallery above). I was expecting high waters, and some flood damage, but was unprepared for the scale of devastation that awaited me. My boyhood utopia spent along a slow moving shallow river had been transformed into a war zone barren landscape littered with uprooted trees and destroyed houses and properties. Scattered locals walked up and down River Road in silence, with no words to describe their feelings as they paid witness to the storm and its aftermath.
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More than 41 feet of water flooded land, swept through homes, carried off overturned vehicles, and sent people scurrying to high ground for safety and survival. As a photojournalist I am often presented with extraordinary situations that humble me as a human being. Today left me speechless as it did the residents of Wimberley. I completed my work, climbed into my car and came home to San Antonio. Those I met today were left behind to fend for themselves, more than 1,200 Hays County residents do not have a bed to go home to tonight. Some have lost their lives.
It’s hard to put a positive spin on the devastation that has occurred in Wimberley. After arriving to a bleak scene early in the morning, I left with a feeling of hope for this small town, and it’s all due to the heroic acts of one woman. Wimberley High School swim coach Jennifer Bachman opened the high school just after the flood hit around 12:15 a.m. and started taking in people left without homes and necessities.
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“We didn’t have a banana for a crying baby, we didn’t have milk. We had nothing and nothing was open. For a good two hours we just tried to get as much as we can from each others’ nearby houses,” Coach Bachman said.
With the help of a few other staff members she made multiple trips to her house Saturday night to grab towels, clothes, mattresses, anything she could find to help in anyway she could. By this time about 200 to 250 people needing food, shelter, and clothing had arrived. Coach Bachman sent out a mass email to the entire school district at 2 a.m. seeking help which started arriving by 4 a.m. What started with one foldable table of essentials, quickly became two, then three, and now people’s generosity has consumed an entire gymnasium.
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Clothes, diapers, food, shovels, paper towels, shoes, and blankets were just a few of the items in high supply on Sunday morning, not including an entire room filled with non-perishble food items. Coach Bachman had been working for 48 hours straight when I sat down to talk to her, and opened with “first of all I need to see what day it is.” Earlier, she had figured out the only route in and out of town was FM 3237 to Kyle, so she led a group of 12 vehicles to I- 35 before things got too bad, ensuring they made it safely.
“Within just hours this whole gym was full of stuff and it’s still being brought in, we are having to turn away clothes.”
Then Coach Bachman, fatigued, started to cry.
“Seeing all of that and seeing all of this is like a little overwhelming because we needed all of this stuff at night and we didn’t have it, the babies didn’t have anything. Someone drove 45 minutes just to get a banana for this child. This community is just amazing.”
“My house got flooded two years ago so I understand what they need. So that’s why I feel like I should be here.”
I asked her what she would like to say to all of her volunteers
“I don’t know how to thank them, at all. I mean, they’re standing here saying we will rebuild this house, what house do we need to rebuild? I’m at a loss for words. When people say Wimberley, in other communities they train people in their communities to do what we do without training. Nobody has been trained, there is no team of responders that I have been working with. The only team of responders is the love of the Wimberley community. So what do I say to these people? I don’t say anything to them when they walk in the door. When they walk in the door wanting to help I either wrap my arms around them because I know them or I give them a big high five because their coming in like I’m their coach and they’re coming in as my player. This is my team.”
What would they say to you?
“They’d probably call me their coach. And we’d probably put our hands together and say ‘Wimberley on three. One, two, three Wimberley.’”
Of course many others were involved in the unbelievable response and support of Wimberley. Just to name a few: the Red Cross, the National Guard, and H-E-B. Everyone came together. That tells me Wimberley will rebuild, and once again become the place that leaves people with good feelings about living there and fond memories for those who have to leave.