FEMA arrives to assess damage from Round Rock tornado

TAYLOR — Federal officials began a preliminary tornado damage assessment in Williamson County on Wednesday, a task they say could take up to 60 days.

A FEMA representative, along with county officials, discussed recovery efforts Wednesday at a press conference at the Williamson County Exposition Center in Taylor, where a multi-agency resource center for survivors was opened. The center needs more toiletries and Tylenol donations. Donations can be dropped off outside the center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday only at 5350 Bill Pickett Trail.

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency went house-to-house in Round Rock on Wednesday, taking photos of the exterior damage to homes, said Ben Akers, a FEMA representative.

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“We noted how well the whole neighborhood was able to put blue roofs on the houses,” Akers said, referring to the blue tarps residents stretched over the houses where the tornado ripped the roofs off. “It is very important to mitigate any further damage if rain falls in the area,” he said.

Residents with damaged structures can help FEMA by taking as many photos of the damage as possible, keeping receipts for work done by contractors, and also getting contractors’ names and phone numbers, Akers said.

People who have suffered damage to their home should also report it to the state Department of Emergency Management at damage.tdem.texas.gov.

There were no fatalities from the two tornadoes that hit the county – one that started in Round Rock and ended in Granger, and another that hit northwest of Jarrell. Another tornado also hit near Elgin in Bastrop County, causing damage.

The Williamson County tornadoes damaged or destroyed 1,122 structures, including more than 50 commercial businesses, officials said. Most of the damage occurred to homes in the Round Rock area. City officials said a preliminary estimate showed the tornado caused $32 million in damage to 680 homes.

At Wednesday’s press conference, County Judge Bill Gravell said Frank Zrubek, 91, was the only person he knows who was seriously injured in the tornadoes that struck March 21. Zrubek, who lives near Granger, was recently released from hospital and sent to rehab, Gravell said.

FEMA officials arrived in Round Rock to begin assessing damage from the tornado on Wednesday.  More than 600 homes were damaged in the city by a tornado that hit on March 21.

Representatives from the federal Small Business Administration are also in Williamson County to assess business damage. County constables are also sending their house-to-house deputies to help assess damage, Gravell said.

The Austin Disaster Relief Network, an organization that included more than 200 churches in a five-county region, partnered with the American Red Cross to open the resource center in Taylor through Thursday. Donations to the relief network can be made at bit.ly/3Dn17SM.

“One of our goals is to connect each of the survivors with a church member who has been specially trained in how to move forward with the survivor of a disaster,” said Tim Dale, field operations manager. of the organization during the press conference.

The American Red Cross has provided assistance to about 52 families since the resource center opened Tuesday in Taylor, said Skip Cordes, regional shelter manager for the Central Texas Section.

READ: Uncertain reopenings at stores in Round Rock mall hit by tornadoes

At the press conference, Gravell said neighbors rushed to help Zrubek when he was seriously injured.

Zrubek was inside an RV where he lived near relatives in the Granger area when the tornado picked up the vehicle and hauled it “a long distance,” Gravell said. Neighbors responded immediately after the tornado to help Zrubek, the judge said.

The 91-year-old has now had three back surgeries, Gravell said.

“It’s a wonderful story about one of our men from East Williamson County with great courage and neighbors with great compassion and ambulances that moved aggressively,” Judge said.

Churches in the area have also found homes for survivors who have lost their homes, he said. A church provided seven nights in an Airbnb for a woman with a 7-month-old baby whose home was badly damaged while her husband, an off-road trucker, was away, Gravell said. The only room in the family home where the tornado didn’t rip the roof off was the nursery, he said.

Gravell said many survivors he met downplayed their losses. One woman said other people had suffered much more than her family. “She said, ‘Our carport collapsed and our barn collapsed and the paint covered our new cars and our RV was rolling out the back pasture,'” the judge said.

Although much of the damage from the tornado has been cleaned up, he said, there are still people, including two women with a local farm, who have $50,000 of debris strewn across their property.

“Now is the time to help our residents get their feet under them,” he said.

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