‘Tunnel homeowner’ fighting to move back home

Austin veteran fighting to move back into his house.
Austin veteran fighting to get house back.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Six years after being accused of building bombs in his basement, an Austin veteran says he just wants to move back home.

Joe Del Rio grew up in the house on Canterbury Street in east Austin. The Army and Air Force veteran says it’s time to live there again.

“Memories from the past are one thing,” said Del Rio standing in front of the house, “when I was a little kid my uncles coming back from World War II going in there and talking and all that.”

Del Rio, 76, says he has not been allowed to live in his house since May 2010 when accusations that he was building bombs surfaced. Then, code compliance officers said they had discovered mysterious tunnels, compressed gas tanks, even a live grenade. They said the house was in danger of collapsing, but Del Rio said that was never the case. He said what he was trying to do was expand his bomb shelter, which came with the house built in the 1940s.

Del Rio says while he was being questioned by Austin police at a nearby elementary school, crews filled his basement with cement and cut off all the utilities. “I do believe that the city needs to be more accountable to what they do.”

Recently, Del Rio turned to the League of United American Citizens, LULAC, for some help. The organization says before he can move back in, he’s been told by the city that all the electrical work needs to be restored, but the problem is that he can’t even seem to get the right permits. LULAC says Del Rio was also recently denied a $20,000 grant for home repairs from the city to homeowners in the Holly Power plant area, because he does not currently live there.

“All the legal issues have been resolved, the bottom line is that the city basically said we’re sorry, we made a mistake,” said Gavino Fernandez Jr, LULAC’s District 12 Deputy Director for the Elderly. “There is no electricity, they cut off all the wires… the plumbing we don’t know what type of damage was done when they poured the cement.”

Del Rio says he wants some answers from the city but in the meantime, he’s hoping to be back home by Easter.  KXAN has tried to reach a spokesperson with the city to see what’s next, but calls have not been returned yet.

This was Joe Del Rio's bomb shelter at his home on Canterbury Street before the city of Austin filled it with concrete. (KXAN Photo/Tom Rapp)
This was Joe Del Rio’s bomb shelter at his home on Canterbury Street before the city of Austin filled it with concrete. (KXAN FILE Photo)
This was Joe Del Rio's bomb shelter at his home on Canterbury Street. The shelter was filled in with concrete by the city of Austin in 2010. (KXAN Photo/Tom Rapp)
This was Joe Del Rio’s bomb shelter at his home on Canterbury Street. The shelter was filled in with concrete by the city of Austin in 2010. (KXAN Photo/Tom Rapp)