MERCEDES — Still reeling from a powerful storm system that pounded the Mid-Valley and Delta area overnight Monday, local residents here have taken it upon themselves to initiate relief efforts. Also, the Elsa City Council approved a disaster declaration during an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Two days after the storm clouds cleared, the water they unleashed remained stagnant in many of Mercedes’ low-lying neighborhoods — many of which were inundated almost exactly one year ago.
With residents unable to leave their homes, a small group of local residents banded together Wednesday to purchase supplies — food, water and cleaning supplies — to help tide people over until the waters recede.
“We’re coming together to give some food and some waters and some drinks to kiddos to those people that are stranded in their homes,” said Israel Coronado, a local resident-become-activist who founded the social media groups “Make Weslaco Drain Again” and “Mercedes Will Drain Again.”
Wednesday afternoon found Coronado and another resident volunteer, Leonel Gutierrez, hastily piling cases of water, canned soup and tuna, crackers, Pop Tarts and sports drinks into shopping carts at the Mercedes H-E-B.
As they wheeled the carts toward the parking lot, a woman approached with her hand outstretched, making a cash donation for the relief efforts.
With the help of Gutierrez’s son, Caleb, and another resident, Velda Garcia, the group quickly assembled the supplies into care packages before heading toward a north Mercedes neighborhood off Mile 8 North Road.
There, at the entrance of a subdivision whose streets are named after breeds of cattle, stood a public works employee overseeing the progress of a pump that was slowly pulling water away from homes.
The streets, particularly Hereford Street, remained nonetheless inundated as the impromptu relief crew inched its way along in a Chevy Z-71 pickup truck with 4-wheel drive and a lift kit capable of cruising above the brown, pungent floodwaters.
Arsenia Gonzalez, 63, was one of several residents who received a care package. She was thankful for the help, since the floodwaters have kept her from being able to leave. “Tenemos miedo que los carros tambien se nos hechan a perder,” she said. “We’re afraid that our cars will also be damaged.”
She spoke of how the neighborhood has flooded several times before, including last year, and how undersized drains contribute to be the problem. “Es muy poca la salida que tiene el denaje,” she said. “Por eso se inundo de volada,” she said.
“The drain outlet is very small. That’s why it floods so quickly,” she said of a drainage canal located just behind the neighborhood.
Gutierrez and Coronado were especially concerned about one of the neighborhood’s elderly residents, 95-year-old Guadalupe Morales, who lives alone in a small wood frame house.
The pair assembled a special care package for Morales, with bottles of electrolyte drinks and Ensure shakes.
Morales could be seen sitting on his front porch Wednesday afternoon. The water, which has receded some since Monday, still came up to the second porch step. Out in the yard, the remains of a cat that had succumbed to the storm floated in the polluted water.
Despite the situation, Morales was upbeat, expressing his thanks for the generosity of the care packages and for neighbors whom he said check up on him. “Qué bueno que protejan a todo la familia. Es muy bonito. Pero, se sacan la lotería con eso,” Morales said.
“It’s good that they protect their entire family (community). It’s very beautiful. That’s like winning the lottery,” he said.
“Hay gente muy presumida. Yo no … yo soy felíz,” he said.
“There are some who are presumptuous. I’m not. I’m happy,” he said.
For Coronado, helping his neighbors is a social responsibility that must be borne by everyone. “I have yet to see any city resources being allocated to go helping the community in this manner,” Coronado said of distributing food and water. “But, there comes a point where we all have to come together as a community to do something about each other.”
Just over a dozen miles away — in Elsa — city leaders were turning that responsibility into action.
The city council called an emergency meeting early Wednesday afternoon where they approved a formal disaster declaration in the wake of Monday night’s storms. Mayor Alonzo Perez also signed a letter addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott requesting state aid in dealing with the storm’s aftermath.
Though much of the floodwaters had receded in Elsa by Wednesday, several neighborhoods were still struggling as irrigation and drainage canals had crested and were continuing to spill water.
To help resolve the issue, city leaders enlisted the help of six vacuum trucks — two from the county, and four more contracted by the city itself.
“Those ditches? I’ve never seen those ditches crest before,” the mayor said.