Overcomer: Finding The Vision for a New Year After The Wimberley Flood

Photography by Martin Waddy

overcomerThough the biggest event in her life happened prior to Memorial Day 2015, Jesseca Smith, 40, knows the lessons left with her are ones to live by and good ones to remember as everyone goes into a New Year. She acknowledges all people go through tough times, and during her most recent one, she learned:

She has experienced firsthand how powerful helping others and receiving that help can be after the waters subsided. For all these lessons were learned during the devastating flood in Wimberley on May 23-24, 2015. According to ksat.com, “The Blanco River gauge at Wimberley showed the water level rose from nearly 9 feet at 10:30 p.m. Saturday to more than 40 feet by 1 a.m. Sunday, eclipsing the record of 32 feet. (Data courtesy of National Weather Service.)” Entire blocks of homes (about 400) were swept away, and the stories of death and destruction, some involving children, were gut-wrenching.

Smith said, “The flood was sudden and unpredictable. All the long-timers, residents and neighbors alike, reassured us that the river only got higher once, at about 30 feet, but still then it wasn’t too big a deal.” Yet after a barrage of flood warnings, it took only 30 minutes for the water to rise 40 feet, and only five minutes for the river to enter their house.

Quickly, the Smiths abandoned any plan to save material possessions and loaded their truck with very little but themselves and their dogs. They joined others in an escape attempt that was shrouded in the same intensity as a disaster movie. As they drove away from the house, huge cypress trees floated by and slammed into the neighbor’s house.

Several families found safety in a field, which became an island surrounded by water on all sides. “My husband is a hero. Simple as that,” Smith said. She remembers detail after detail of helping others and even pulling a wheelchair-bound woman from her truck as the vehicle washed away. As the night drew on, she would watch her husband leave and return each time with a neighbor or a pet. She recalls, “I was absolutely livid each time he’d leave into the darkness, not knowing if I would ever see him again. Yet at the same time, I was so proud when he would return with people. Once he came into view with two small children under each arm and their mother holding onto to him and carrying a family dog.”

The long night eventually brought assistance, and the Smiths began to rebuild their lives. At that time, they owned only the clothes on their backs. Thanks to many people, like Debbie Margowitz of Phyllis Browning, they started over again. “Everything that makes a home was given to us,” she said. “Strangers sent us gift cards and toiletries. People from all walks of life sent money and gift cards. The Fiestaware Company even sent four place settings in my favorite colors,” she said.
People helping one another gave the Smith family hope and life. She now encourages others to send these items (“to help victims feel human again”) for people who have lost everything in a disaster:

wet wipes
comfortable clothes
new blankets
feminine care
fingernail files

These are the immediate needs for any care package. Despite the disastrous flood waters entering Jesseca Smith’s life, she has been flooded with hope and love from other people. She is now ready to give it back as often as possible.

Be It Resolved In 2017: Help One Another.

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