Texas wildfires leave survivors with little but gratitude to be alive
Texas wildfires that spread across Bastrop County this week have forced many residents into shelters, where they recount narrow escapes and retain an enduring hope for the future.
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Now, four days later, the pair still don't know if their home is standing, but the development, Tahitian Village, was reportedly hit hard. Auckland says reliable information is hard to come by, and they still aren't allowed to go to see if their home survived. It's made him frustrated since it seems to him – and others – that Bastrop's volunteers shouldered most of the load but were hopelessly outmatched by the fire until Tuesday. By then, most of the damage was done, he said.Skip to next paragraph
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“I don't think they [state authorities] realized quickly enough the scope of the situation out here,” he says, “How many homes we have out here? We're not just rural anymore.”
Still, the pair say they are grateful for the neighbor who warned them and to have gotten out safely with their family and pets – the two snakes now boarding at a reptile store in Austin.
“We're all safe,” Herrera says. “We'll start over. God will provide.”
The couple say they aren't seeking any donated clothing or food at the middle school shelter, even though they could probably use some. They just want information, which seems in short supply.
“We know there are people a lot less fortunate than us,” Auckland says. “We have what we need. My kids are safe. My albums are safe. We've still got two jobs to get to each day.”
A somber reunion
While television lights blazed at a press conference at the nearby community center, Red Cross workers along with police, city workers, and volunteers from several local churches tended to scores of displaced and homeless people. Some spread out donated clothing in piles outside the school in the baking Texas sun.
Victims sat on benches in the shade, talking to aid workers, or in the air conditioned cafeteria. In the shade of a covered walkway in the 90-degree heat – a break from the 100-plus degree days of the prior week – Rachael Kinsey and Jeromy Thompson were reunited. The friends had not seen each other in some time. Both say they have likely lost their homes.
“It's burnt,” Mr. Thompson says flatly. “That's it.”
“You could see the smoke and flames crackling. We got out of there just in time,” he adds.
“I haven't been able to find out about my home,” Ms. Kinsey says, “but when I left the fire was out of control and heading our direction."
Just as she and her relatives finished throwing a few belongings into their cars, a black cloud was pouring down the road. They roared away in the opposite direction and stayed the night with other relatives in nearby Smithville, but had to leave there, too, the next day as the fire approached.
Both Thompson, an unemployed mechanic, and Kinsey, now say they have no home, no jobs, and no money. They are wearing donated clothing that does not fit. They will sleep on cots at the middle school tonight. But they are alive. They both still know people and have relatives in the area. And after the fire dies and the rains finally come and something approaching normal begins to return to town, both say they expect good things to begin again.
“I'm broke,” Kinsey says, “I left my kids with friends so they wouldn't be too stressed out here. Technically, I have no where to go. But I'm grateful to be staying here for now. Things will get better.”