Austin-area non-profits mobilize to help North Texas tornado victims

North Texas storms
North Texas storms (Nexstar photo)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Two extreme weather events hitting Texas, almost all at once, and as relief efforts rev up once again, some disaster relief teams are worn out.

“Typically, we would go out there. If this happened last year, we’d go,” said Daniel Geraci, executive director of the Austin Disaster Relief Network (ADRN).

After three major disasters in Austin’s backyard in 2015—the Memorial Day floods in Hays County, the Bastrop County wildfires, and then another round of floods in October—Geraci said resources are tapped and volunteers are tired. The recovery efforts for those disasters that hit closer to home are still ongoing and Geraci said ADRN needs to take care of their neighbors before going anywhere else.

After the magnitude of the disaster in North Texas, Geraci said he expected to see 3,000 volunteers, but so far only about 400 have offered to help. Geraci said, “We think it’s mostly the public that’s disaster weary and the same with the giving, we haven’t seen as much giving.”

Geraci said it’s not just the group’s network of churches that are running on fumes right now. At the very end of the year Geraci said national organizations are stretched thin, too. “Their own volunteers nationwide and even statewide, they are tired and weary. All of us are kind of feeling that, ‘where are the volunteers?’ But we’re tired and they are tired.”

Thousands of structures, mostly homes, were destroyed by tornadoes in North Texas the day after Christmas.

“That’s real life, we have disasters and they aren’t any fun,” said Randy O’Dell, the disaster coordinator for the Salvation Army in Williamson County. As of Monday, the Salvation Army had four canteen trucks on the ground in North Texas. The mobile kitchens are used to provide food and water to first responders and survivors but O’Dell’s team hasn’t been called up to North Texas, yet.

“It’s been a really busy year.” O’Dell said. His team of about a dozen volunteers has logged about 2,000 hours while responding to 15 disasters in 2015 and now they’re on standby to do one more, probably before the New Year. “Iy wears you out, but it’s a good tired.”

Last year, O’Dell said his team didn’t get called to any disasters, which is good, but O’Dell said it’s a blessing that he gets to help people in their time of need.

“They feel like maybe the Calvary has arrived and some help is coming, so us getting there first really helps inspire the people with confidence because we have a well-known name,” O’Dell said of the Salvation Army. “We are known for comfort, so it’s just good to roll up on the scene.”

O’Dell and his team are on standby waiting to hear if they’ll be called to North Texas to help with the recovery after the tornadoes, or if they’ll be sent to the Panhandle to help in the aftermath of a blizzard.

“You’re always kind of on a guarded alert because they haven’t called us to stand up,” O’Dell said he will just watch the weather and when the time comes he’ll be ready and know who to call. He said it only takes about two hours to mobilize the team and get the canteen on the road.

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