A Texas State student credits his decision to stay up late and enjoy an Austin-brewed beer to saving his life after floods hit Hays County on Memorial Day weekend.
Colin Iliff, environmental studies senior, was house-sitting for his aunt in Wimberley when the weather conditions began to deteriorate.
“There is like a 25-foot difference between where the house sits and where the (Blanco) river is as far as height goes,” Iliff said. “The rain had started flowing down and the river was a little elevated, but it seemed completely fine.”
Iliff said he considered going to bed after the power went out. But Iliff quickly changed his mind after noticing his favorite beer in the fridge.
“I was debating whether or not I should go to sleep or stay up, enjoy a beer and hang out with the dogs, who were stressed out from the storm and everything,” Iliff said. “I eventually chose to stay up and have a beer with the dogs.”
An hour after the home lost power, Iliff said a roaring sound coming from the backyard compelled him to check the river again.
“I poked my head out the door and looked toward the river, and lo and behold it was right there,” Iliff said. “(The water) had already gotten up to the level of the house.”
Iliff said the river rose almost 30 feet in 45 minutes. As Iliff rushed to move valuables and important documents to the second floor of the home, he realized he was already out of time.
“I decided as I was moving items that I was already too late,” Iliff said. “I needed to grab the dogs and get out right then.”
Iliff said he took the dogs and a few of their toys to the car.
“I drove up the driveway and luckily the gate at the top of the driveway was uphill from the house, so I was able to turn around and use my headlights and see where the water was,” Iliff said.
At that moment, Iliff said a huge wall of water, debris and his aunt’s propane tank slammed into the side of the house, leaving only the foundation in its wake.
“If I hadn’t decided to stay up with the dogs and have that beer, I would have been dead,” Iliff said. “I would have just been swept away with the dogs.”
Iliff said he and his family are currently working to recover items from the rubble.
“Our main mission is to look for memories, treasures—like any heirlooms, jewelry, pictures, stuff like that,” Iliff said. “It’s all super-important to my aunt, and luckily we have managed to pull out a bunch of heirloom silverware, quite a few pictures and some intact plates, which I find amazing.”
Iliff said at times the neighborhood has seen as many as 100 volunteers helping to chainsaw fallen trees and use tractors to remove rubble.
Three people remain unaccounted for after the floods that left 12 people dead.
Iliff said their cleanup efforts have helped in the search for missing people.
“As we clean up, we also search for the missing people as well because this little part of the river happens to be one of the primary deposits of debris,” Iliff said. “We’re hoping to only find the good stuff, but we are always being cautious and vigilant about that.”
Dustin New, creator of the Wimberley Lost and Found Facebook page, said he and his father have known Iliff’s family for many years.
New said he dropped everything to help friends after hearing of the devastation in his hometown.
“Several of my family friends were heavily affected by the floods,” New said. “The parents of two of my best friends that I have known my entire life lost everything. I consider those guys family, so it took priority over work and anything else I had going on.”
New said the outpouring of support from people across the town has helped bring comfort to many of the flood victims.
“The people here have been so amazing,” New said. “Before any government assistance got here and before HEB or any food assistance arrived, residents within the community came out in full force to help their fellow neighbors clean up.”
New said members of the community remained positive despite the loss many faced.
“People’s sprits are pretty high considering what happened,” New said “When you go to these work sites, you have the people that own the homes right there—shoulder-to-shoulder with the volunteers—and everyone is listening to music and trying to crack as many jokes as is appropriate.”
Iliff said the community is still in need of volunteers, and encouraged anyone living in Central Texas to show their support through community service.
“I’m very lucky compared to a lot of people, and my story is uplifting in many ways and it’s kind of funny because beer saved my life,” Iliff said. “While it’s nice to hear good stories like that, it’s the people who were less fortunate that really need the attention right now.”