2013 Halloween flood prompts lawsuit against city of Austin

Jacqueline Perez is suing the City of Austin for what the lawsuit contends are 'failures' in the city's response to 2013 Onion Creek flood.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – An Austin homeowner is suing the City of Austin alleging the city failed to put in place emergency procedures before the 2013 floods that swamped the Onion Creek neighborhood, court records show.

The suit filed Oct 30 in Travis County hours before two-year Statute of Limitation deadlines on such claims expired, contends “Prior to and during the flood event the City of Austin failed to implement and/or follow proper emergency notification and response procedures for emergency flood situations and/or failed to warn Plaintiffs of the propensity for flooding activity in their neighborhood.”

“I would never have moved into this neighborhood if I had known,” Perez tells KXAN saying the morning of Oct. 31, 2013 she and her roommate received no warning the neighborhood was flooding. She says they fled in their car to the neighborhood’s main exit along South Pleasant Valley Road, only to have the water pick up their vehicle. Perez says they were rescued sometime later after spending hours clinging to a fence and battered by flood debris.

Property records show Perez bought the small house in September 2012. Perez adds she was well aware she was moving into a flood plain property and had bought flood insurance, but she says she would have expected to have received notices the city had already been buying out properties in the general area from floods dating back to the 1999 flood.

The crux of the new lawsuit lists a dozen ‘failures’ drawn directly from the 2014 Flood After Action Report city staff compiled. The report listed response issues that didn’t work or needed improvement. Since then, many of the recommendations have been implemented, KXAN has reported including more 9-1-1 call takers and more rescue boats.

Perez says she has placed her home in the Onion Creek neighborhood on the Phase 1 buy out list from the City of Austin. Records confirm the city is in the midst of Phase 1 buy outs. But her transaction hasn’t happened yet.

Like dozens of other homeowners in the low-lying neighborhood, she was out of her home for months after the 2013 flooding. This past weekend, exactly two years later and the same day her attorney filed the lawsuit, Perez was flooded out again when 14 inches of water entered her single story home. Along with neighbors, she has spent the past several days dealing with insurance adjustors, unsure if she should begin repairs if the city will soon buy her out anyway.

In the case of the 2013 floods, no homeowners, until now, have taken legal action against the city, a spokesperson confirms. Contracts have centered around insurance payouts or city buyouts.

From City of Austin: In September 2014, the Austin City Council authorized $60 million in funding to buy out properties in the 100-year floodplain.On March 5, the Austin City Council authorized…voluntary buyouts for 232 houses.

The city is approaching the Onion Creek 2013 flood buyout area in phases. Homeowners were given the opportunity to let the city know when they wanted to be bought. Phase 1 includes those who asked to be bought right away and whose houses had damage from the Halloween Flood.

Everyone in Phase 1 has been given a ranking based on depth of flooding. The city expects to have contacted all Phase 1 properties before the summer of 2016.

Regarding the lawsuit, KXAN reached out to the city of Austin. A spokesperson responded in an email writing, “We are aware of the lawsuit, and are prepared to defend the emergency response to the record rains and flooding in 2013. The city of Austin is committed to the safety and security of all of its residents.”

The new suit seeks damages for physical injuries and other suffering.

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