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After Harvey, one year later: Refugio Strong

Refugio County still in need of help

REFUGIO COUNTY – While Harvey impacted many communities along the Texas coast and wasn't the first hurricane for Refugio County, it did leave some unexpected damage.

County Commissioner Ann Lopez says Harvey ramped up from a Category 1 storm to a Category 4 storm so quickly that the county had little time to prepare for evacuations. Many people tried to ride out the storm in their own homes.

One year later, Lopez said about 300 homes in the county are still in need of repair. While Refugio County has not conducted an assessment of the damage, The Volunteer Reception Center is working with others to get the assessment done on homes still in need of repair.

Dorey Williams, director for the Refugio County Volunteer Reception Center, provided county data to KSAT as of Aug. 21:

  • 388 residents have asked for help with repairs.
  • 76 homeowners were referred to other long-term recovery groups like The Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group, Rio Texas and Samaritans Purse because of the scope of the damage (most of these cases needed their home rebuilt or trailer home replaced).
  • 93 homeowners and residents helped with repairs and debris clean up so far.

Dorey explained there is still a long to-do list, "Due to lack of donations and volunteer groups, we are unable to purchase materials or pay skilled labor to replace roofs or level the foundations of many of the homes."

The VRC is also still in need of volunteers.

Lopez said communities and churches used donations they collected to buy materials and supplies for the work assigned by the VRC but help is still needed.

"Roofs have to be tarped and re-tarped. We lack professionals who can repair roofs and level homes. We lack funds to purchase supplies. We continue to be a county with much need," Lopez said.

According to Lopez, here are some of the funding that has helped the county so far:

  • The United Way of Corpus Christi gave Refugio County and the VRC $350,000.
  • The 7th Day Adventists contributed $40,000 to level 15 homes.
  • About $62,000 was given to the Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group for repairs in Refugio County, along with a little more than $17,000 was given in donations to the VRC.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also provided help. Lopez said FEMA helped guide the county in some aspects of repair but acknowledged many of the residents were denied financial help on the first round of applications.

"Working with FEMA became a challenge of perseverance," Lopez said.

It's a similar issue KSAT heard from people around the town of Refugio. The small town in the county continues to lean on each other to rebuild.

Two words seem to send a message of hope for the town: Refugio Strong.

The phrase has not only become a hashtag on social media but also a saying on shirts like the one Lavena Williams wears.

"I wear it faithfully, I'm proud of where I'm from," Williams said.

Williams and her family have come a long way since Harvey hit one year ago. She recalls water surrounding her home and a tree that was ripped from the ground.

"I couldn't freak out because I had my youngest son with me," Williams said. Her other children were riding out the storm with their own friends, including her oldest, Armonie Brown.

Brown, who plays defensive tackle for town's high school football team, was staying at the home of teammate Kaleb Wright along with their fellow football player Trevor Ross.

A total of 19 people -- which include Wright's family members -- were under one roof at the time Harvey hit.

"We had to move into the hallway and it's like this big but it was small," Wright said.

Ross remembered, "We gathered around and started reading the Bible and praying and stuff."

As Hurricane Harvey sent strong winds hurdling through the town, "the house was rocking," Brown said. "You could hear the wind and the trees breaking on top of the roof and everything."

After enduring the rain and wind, athletics seemed to provide some relief amid the destruction that surrounded the town.

"To be honest, football got my mind off of it," Wright said.

Neighbors in Refugio also seemed to look to the sport for comfort.

"Whenever the hurricane hit, people were asking if we were still going to have a season or not," Ross said.

The football team was able to make it all the way to the state championship last year and many members of the community made the trip to Dallas to support the Bobcats.

One woman estimated more people left Refugio to watch the championship than the number who left the town ahead of Harvey.

"I mean, we really wanted to go out and win but we gave it all we got. It was just beautiful to see how many people came out and supported us," Brown said.

The football players did more than just put their work on their field, they also took their grit off the gridiron and into the community.

"If people needed help picking up, tearing down or putting a tarp on their roofs, we went out and helped. It was no question about it," Brown said.

The Bobcats had a role model to learn from in Coach Jason Herring, who helped organize donations for those in need. The team used their muscle to unload more than a dozen trucks of supplies into their field house.

"There were people getting canned food, mattresses and sheets, and all that," Ross said.

A year after the storm, some homes have sturdy metal roofs while others are nearing the end of the rebuilding process. There are still some neighborhoods dotted with blue tarps and damage.

Refugio High School also has some signs of damage but the community seems determined to stay strong.

"The boys went through a lot last year. And for them to come out the way that they did, I think it's pretty amazing," Williams said.

Brown, Wright and Ross all plan to make the most of being starters for their senior year with hopes of continuing their football career in college. Brown already has nine scholarship offers, including one from a university in San Antonio.

"Yes sir, U-I. The Incarnate Word, they're included," Brown said.

It's not clear where Brown will attend school but his mother has one message for him.

"Never forget where home is, but I want him to see that there are places besides Refugio," Williams said.

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