Wimberley Residents Leery Of River Weeks After Devastating Floods Search crews continue to look for three missing people after the Memorial Day weekend flood on the Blanco River. Meanwhile, those in Wimberley, Texas, are struggling to put their lives back together.
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Wimberley Residents Leery Of River Weeks After Devastating Floods

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Wimberley Residents Leery Of River Weeks After Devastating Floods

Wimberley Residents Leery Of River Weeks After Devastating Floods

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Today, nearly two weeks after the catastrophic Memorial Day floods in Texas, search crews are still combing the banks of the Blanco River, looking for three people who are still missing. They've already found eight bodies. The tourist and retirement town of Wimberley was hit hardest by the flood. NPR's John Burnett reports people there are cleaning up and struggling to reclaim their lives.

KELLY O'KEEFE: Good morning, everyone. Thank you all for coming out.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: The Wimberley Lions Club went ahead with its monthly Market Days fair this morning. They're giving away bumper stickers that say hashtag #wimberleystrong in return for flood donations. The sale day coordinator, Kelly O'Keefe, is busy as usual, tending to booths, selling pickled okra and floppy sunhats, but she's even more harried under the circumstances. O'Keefe, with her shoulder-length hair, white golf shirt and sneakers, lost everything.

O'KEEFE: We watched our house being torn apart. It slid off of its foundation and started to rip into pieces, and the water was raging - the sound of it.

BURNETT: She and her roommate, Kris, heard that sound coming down the normally placid Blanco River, with its stately cypresses and rope swings and party trailers along the banks.

O'KEEFE: Like the loudest rolling thunder you could possibly ever hear mixed in with bomb-like sounds, like you're in a war zone, with trees snapping and the roar of the river - it was absolutely terrifying.

BURNETT: Kelly and Kris, who are 49 and 65, had their three-bedroom home swept off its foundation. The bed and breakfast behind their house that was their major income was also washed away. But they were able to get out in time with Kris' 87-year-old mother, who quipped I guess it was time to downsize. They're now living in Kris' sister's house and wondering what their next move is. Rebuild?

O'KEEFE: Not a chance. I couldn't because even the sound of the river now would - I would start physically shaking, and I will not rebuild down there. And I don't know if FEMA would even let us, or I think they're going to redefine the floodplain anyways.

BURNETT: O'Keefe says she's the one who usually volunteers to help others. She now finds herself accepting the kindness of strangers - food, water, clothing and cleanup crews hauling off debris from her yard.

O'KEEFE: It's really difficult to be the one with my hand out.

BURNETT: She needs to go to her property to meet a representative from FEMA. She drives her little white sedan, the only thing that was saved, down River Road to Wagon Wheel Circle. She misses two things really badly - the gold cross that belonged to her grandmother and her cat, Mama.

O'KEEFE: Kitty, kitty, kitty. Come on, Mama. I just don't - I don't think she made it.

BURNETT: O'Keefe points to two empty rectangular spaces in her lawn with overturned cinderblocks.

O'KEEFE: So yes, this is where the slab was. And that's where our bed and breakfast was. Unbelievable, isn't it?

BURNETT: In the near-term, O'Keefe tries to eat enough and stay rested and leave time for prayer. In the long-term, she and her roommate are thinking of leaving Texas. They may go to the mountains and get away from the sound of the river. They're lucky that they own a vacation home in Pagosa Springs, Colo. And if Kelly O'Keefe does leave, there's one thing she'll take with her.

O'KEEFE: Texas women are pretty strong (laughter).

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, Wimberley, Texas.

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