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Local resident reflects on past historic floods

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Photo by: Courtesy of University Archives
The intersection of Sessom Dr. and Aquarena Springs Dr. during the 1998 flood.

Over the years, the San Marcos community has established a tradition of cooperation and kindness in the face of catastrophic flooding.

Disaster relief organizations and local volunteers are proving instrumental in helping victims of this year’s flood disaster. Kim Porterfield, San Marcos resident and former city council member, can recall a similar experience.

In October of 1998, Porterfield was living with her husband and two children in a small, cinderblock rental house near the banks of the San Marcos River, she said.

Porterfield said she knew the family would be taking a chance by living on the river.

“Our kids learned to swim in the river,” Porterfield said. “We went to the river every day. We decided that would be a great place to raise the kids.”

After days of rain that October, Porterfield and her neighbors noticed the San Marcos River had begun to swell over its banks. Porterfield was celebrating the fifth birthday of her eldest daughter, Carlie, at the time.

“The river seemed to be getting closer and wider, and dumpsters started floating by,” Porterfield said. “We knew it was time to go.”

Porterfield said she was in fight-or-flight mode.

“I grabbed my camera bag, my glasses and Carlie’s fifth-birthday cake,” Porterfield said. “Go figure.”

Porterfield then loaded her daughters into the pickup truck and joined the migration through flooded roads and neighborhoods to the more elevated west side of San Marcos.

Like many residents on the eastern side of town, Porterfield and her family had to cross over the San Marcos River to reach safety.

The family was forced to abandon their second vehicle when it stalled near East Hopkins Street.

“We were among the last to make it across (the East Hopkins Street bridge),” Porterfield said. “The evacuation part was very, very scary. I didn’t know if we were going to make it across the river.”
As the family crossed the bridge, their remaining vehicle stalled, forcing her husband to push the truck across the flooding bridge amidst a storm of floating pumpkins, Porterfield said.

The Heritage Association of San Marcos was raising funds with a pumpkin sale at East Hopkins Street and North CM Allen Parkway, Porterfield said.

“It’s all very surreal now,” Porterfield said. “Pumpkins were smashing into the truck, smashing into (my husband).”
Porterfield and her family eventually reached their destination—a friend’s house on higher, drier ground, where they celebrated by eating Carlie’s birthday cake.

Michelle Harper, president and CEO for United Way of Hays County, said she was living in the dorms as a student at the then-called Southwest Texas State University-San Marcos during the 1998 floods.

Harper wishes she had been more involved in post-flood aid back then.

“I wasn’t clued in,” Harper said. “I was like, ‘I’m stuck in my dorm, woe is me,’ and had no idea the residents (of San Marcos) were hurting. I would like to see more students clued in to help not only residents, but also college students who are now homeless.”

In November 1998 and this May, United Way has worked to coordinate aid and assistance to flood victims, Harper said.

Dan Knauft, Red Cross volunteer, said local volunteers have proved to be an essential part of the aid effort. Volunteers gathered at St. John’s Catholic Church for three days to provide aid for flood victims through a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC), he said.

MARC officials registered over 200 victims for assistance in three days, Knauft said.

United Way deployed over 700 volunteers in the first days following this year’s flood, Harper said.

Porterfield said disasters like the 1998 and 2015 floods often times come with a silver lining.
“I think the flood of ‘98 really helped us as a family and me as an individual to really understand what’s important in life,” Porterfield said. “I am just more aligned with my family, my friends, my community.”

Porterfield said she hopes the City of San Marcos will likewise use the recent disaster as an opportunity to address other issues.

“Unfortunately, the people who were hit this time are mostly low-income people,” Porterfield said. “There are not many single-family homes that are affordable in San Marcos, and that has been an issue here for years—since I was on the city council and even before then. I’m hoping this is just the beginning of a great collaboration to advance San Marcos beyond the flood and to get our citizens to a level of quality of life that we all desire and deserve here.”

Those who wish to help can donate money to an emergency relief fund for Hays County at the United Way website, she said.