Wimberley Strong: Lessons learned after historic flood

Small town's motto after flood became #WimberleyStrong

WIMBERLEY, Texas – It has been one year since historic floods slammed South Central Texas. Wimberley was hardest hit. The Blanco River rose 33 feet in less than three hours, killing 12 people who could not escape its deadly rise.

"You know when you get out alive, the animals that you love get out alive, everything gets put in perspective,” said Tom Degenhart, recalling the Wimberley floods.

Degenhart barely escaped with his life. Water was waist-deep before he fled his home. 

"Most of us were late leaving our homes,” said Degenhart. “To be honest, if we had better warning, we would have left earlier."

The flood was unprecedented. 

Degenhart’s home normally sits high up on a cliff, well above the river. Still, many who live along the Blanco shared his sentiment of needing more warning.   

"We were making decisions just based on subjective information,” explained Kharley Smith, emergency management coordinator for Hays County.

A new report was just released by Hays County detailing the issues and what could be improved. One major issue was the lack of gauges, or gauges that failed along the Blanco River, during the flood.   

"We didn’t have the data we needed on the river; what it was actually doing,” said Smith.

All responders knew that day, according to Smith, was that the water was high.  When warnings did go out, a large number of residents, who did not have landlines, missed out on automatic phone calls. 

Click here to watch drone video from above the Blanco River in Wimberley one year after the flood.

"So if you haven’t registered your cellphone for the address that you live there’s likely a chance that you missed that message,” Smith said.

In the end, many lessons were learned that led to changes. 

"We've installed five new sensors along the Blanco [River],” said Smith.

A new gauge was installed just last month along the Fischer Store Road Bridge, which was destroyed during the flood. Funded by the Edwards Aquifer Authority, it was intentionally built tall and sturdy to withstand the next flood.   

In addition, more residents have now registered their phones with 911 and extra rain sensors have also been installed. 

Meanwhile, a year later, Degenhart is almost finished rebuilding his home. He, too, has made some significant changes.  

"For one thing, its 12 feet in the air,” said Degenhart.

He also had an additional suggestion for those in charge: an audible warning. 

"I think the best thing we can do is put up a warning system,” said Degenhart.  “Unless you’re within eyesight of a gauge, it doesn’t mean anything.

People who live in Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis and Williamson counties can register their phone with an automatic phone calling system. Click here for more information.

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