Tropical Storm Cindy Approaches Texas, Aid Groups ‘Prepare for the Worst’

State & Regional

Tropical Storm Cindy was expected to make landfall along the coast between Texas and Louisiana Thursday morning and so far, states of emergency have been declared in both Louisiana and Alabama.

As Cindy rips through the Gulf of Mexico, headed toward the Texas coast, the state’s disaster relief fund is dry.

As of August 2016, Governor Greg Abbott’s office had already committed nearly all of the $14.8 million the state set aside for disasters in 2016-17.

If TS Cindy causes damages, Abbott’s staff was not concerned about the potential costs because $100 million will be freed up when the state’s budget for the next biennium, 2018-19, starts in about two months.

“We are not concerned about being able to cover the cost of this storm,” said John Wittman, a spokesman for Abbott. He explained, “These expenditures, and other expenditures, will actually not be due until after Sept. 1, 2017, when that new money kicks in. So we’ll have plenty of money to cover this as well as upcoming disasters.”

At the Red Cross in Austin, volunteers and supplies are in position to deploy to areas impacted by TS Cindy.

“This storm is coming and so of course the need is urgent right now,” said Bristel Minsker, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Central and South Texas region.

“We’re prepared for the worst any day of the year that’s why we keep such a large volunteer workforce ready, that’s why we keep so many supplies at the ready,” Minsker said.

She added that’s why year-round donations are important to the Red Cross.

Coolers are full of bottled water and the emergency response vehicle that’s used to pass out meals and supplies was gassed up and parked out back.

Inside, the shelves are lined with comfort kits that are packed with toiletries for people who are evacuated quickly.

Large buckets that contain bleach, rubber gloves, and other supplies needed for flood cleanup are also ready to be sent out.

“You’re just getting prepared and then waiting,” said Chris Rieghley, the director of field operations for the Austin Disaster Relief Network.

The non-profits warehouse was stocked with cleaning supplies, water pumps, vacuums and gas cans.

“It doesn’t look like much,” Rieghley said, as he patted what looks like a huge air mattress. Donated by the Walmart Foundation, the $100,000 rapid deployment shelter takes less than ten minutes to inflate and is equipped with air-conditioning. 

“When a storm like this comes through it takes everything that you’ve got,” Rieghley said.

Austin City Limits donated cans of water and more than a dozen churches in Austin are on standby to take in evacuees, if needed.

Rieghley said, “When you don’t have a house to stay in, you don’t have food, you don’t have clothing, you don’t have water, those are the things we are going to come in right away and help out with.”

State budget writers allocated $100 million to disaster relief this session, which was the amount Abbott requested.

The increase from less than $15 million to $100 million comes after floods last summer quickly drained the state’s disaster fund. Abbott’s staff blamed the 2016-17 budget writers, who allocated nearly $50 million less than what the governor requested to fund emergency efforts in the wake of a disaster.

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