BY MOLLY SMITH
WESLACO — From her seat on a folding chair in her front lawn, Blanca Esparza can see an assortment of discarded furniture in every direction. Couches, mattresses and side tables are visible among piles of black plastic trash bags, wood and drywall.
“This street looks like a furniture store,” Esparza, 78, said in Spanish.
Furniture is exactly what her four-bedroom house needs. It has sat empty since it flooded with more than 3 feet of water nearly three weeks ago. All that is left are the appliances in a home where all of the doors have been removed and drywall only covers the top third of the walls. Mostly beams are visible, giving the appearance that it’s under construction.
The neighborhood she called home for two decades was one of the harder hit areas in Weslaco when parts of the Mid-Valley received upwards of 20 inches of rain between June 20 and 21.
These and many such rebuilding efforts in the area may be eligible for federal funding assistance now that President Donald Trump issued a federal disaster declaration Friday, covering Hidalgo and Cameron counties. As much as 7 feet of flooding was reported in some areas, with the Mid-Valley taking the brunt of the storms’ impact.
Esparza was evacuated from her Agassi Drive residence on the afternoon of June 20, and has since been staying with a daughter. Unable to afford repairs on her own, she has been relying on assistance from a church group and plans to apply for FEMA assistance, having previously done so three years ago, when the Mid-Valley flooded during Oct. 24, 2015 thunderstorms.
Seven miles away, reconstruction has just begun on the Conde’s house on Chrysolite Drive. All 20 houses on their street — located behind a canal — flooded, the homes’ water stains visible from the street. Piles of drywall and insulation still line a few driveways, waiting to be collected by the county.
Both retired, Daniela Conde, 74, and her husband, Narciso, 68, couldn’t afford to hire carpenters to start repairing their residence until this week, after she secured a loan from a friend. The cost of labor alone is estimated around $3,000, their 22-year-old daughter Reyna said.
Two workers, who had just finished making repairs to a neighbor’s house, spent most of Monday afternoon carrying molding they ripped from the walls earlier in the day to the front yard to lay out in the sun, in a last-ditch attempt to salvage it. Still damp more than two weeks after 14 inches of water flooded the four-bedroom residence, the wood quickly warped in the sun’s hot rays, no longer usable.
The couple had purchased flood insurance on June 13, a week to the date that heavy rains hit, in an effort to prepare for hurricane season, Daniela said, adding in Spanish, “We had no idea the rains were coming.”
That insurance won’t kick in until a few more weeks, and thus won’t cover any of the damages the house sustained. They lost their refrigerator, television and clothing in the flooding, in addition to furniture.
Without a fridge for nearly two weeks, a family member is lending them one until they can find funds to purchase a replacement. Daniela had unsuccessfully tried to secure one through an emergency assistance fund she heard about, but all the appliances were given out within hours.
Reyna applied for FEMA assistance Friday, just hours after it opened to Rio Grande Valley residents. The family previously applied for federal disaster funds after the house flooded during the 2015 thunderstorms, but their application was denied because the damages weren’t considered substantial enough, Reyna said.
This year, they are hopeful for a different outcome.
As Daniela sat watching the workers move molding and drywall outside, she lamented the damages to their beloved piano, which is in need of repair, despite their efforts to raise it on cinder blocks to protect it from the rising waters. The $1,300 accordion she had purchased for her daughter, who played the violin and piano in high school and whose state music competition awards adorn the entryway walls, sat damaged beyond repair on a table near the front door.
In the early morning hours of June 20, after it became apparent the house would flood, the family scrambled to put whatever they could on tables, before they waded through chest-deep flood waters to the safety of a friend’s house, which just a block away suffered no damage.
When asked what she’ll do if another storm hits, or worse, a hurricane, Daniela said they’d rebuild again.
“We’ll stay here,” the California transplant said in Spanish about the house she’s called home for a dozen years. “This is our home.”