More than 500 people crammed into the cafeteria of Perez Elementary School in Dove Springs, where city officials — including Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo and Deputy City Manager Michael McDonald — answered questions about recovery efforts.
Dove Springs residents expressed anger when City Deputy Manager Michael McDonald said Red Cross and Austin Fire began rescues early Thursday morning, with one resident shouting, "No! No one came to my house!"
But the tone of the meeting shifted visibly when Police Chief Art Acevedo took to the microphone and apologized for inconsistencies in the city's response.
“We relied too much on technology and gauges that were not working properly instead of relying on you and for that I apologize from the bottom of our hearts. That is a fact. We have had some lessons learned," he said, as residents clapped and cheered.
The Onion Creek area residents heard updates on flood assistance, resources, permits, buy-outs and debris removal, but they also voiced their anger over delays in getting out of shelters.
"They didn't answer all of my questions," Hortencia Puente said in Spanish to KUT. "We work so hard to maintain our lives and in one minute, you lose everything. [City officials] fault a sensor and they weren't ready. Ready or not, we lost everything. I lost everything and I know what people are feeling right now."
State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez says he's collaborating with other Travis County elected officials and city leaders who are ask Gov. Rick Perry to try to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to visit the damage. "At that point, if they declare it a disaster, then we stand to gain some federal funding to help rebuild," Rodriguez said. "To me it's a disaster. They've lost everything."
Rep. Rodriguez says he feels frustrated by the separation among Austin residents.
"I'd like to know that in the future, people — no matter what part of the town you're living in — will come and help in this kind of situation," he said. "We're all neighbors here. They need 5,000 volunteers here and I've heard several people that have volunteered in similar disasters in the past say this is dismally disappointing, the number of volunteers coming out here."
At the town hall meeting, officials said more than 1,000 homes have been damaged, and 600 tons of debris have been removed, including animal carcasses.
City officials have tried to lighten the load for residents looking to clean up and rebuild. It’s waiving fees for construction permits and towed cars can be retrieved for free. But when a resident asked officials what they’re going to do to improve first response for the future, Deputy City Manager Michael McDonald gave few details:
"What we’re going to do is make sure we keep eyes in certain areas. What was so difficult in this was so much of this came out of Hays County," McDonald said. "It wasn’t occurring here. But nevertheless we’re not going to repeat that same issue we’re going to repair those gauges but we’re going to have boots on the ground and make sure we have a visual on it as well.”