El Paso County announces plans to help flood victims

Changes made to county process to quicken pace of aid

EL PASO, Texas - People without a home after this month's floods are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

On Monday, El Paso county commissioners approved emergency assistance for people who were hit by the storms that devastated parts of the county two weeks ago. The vote basically removes red tape that surrounds the county's general assistance program for those who need help with rental assistance, utility assistance or rapid re-housing.  

Regular services require a lot of paperwork. Typically, it would take days to wade through the process. Now that the county judge will sign a disaster declaration, county officials expect affected residents can be placed into homes in two to three days.

"We're afraid those families that did get affected, most of their documents are destroyed or were washed away," said Michael Flores, the El Paso county general assistance programs manager.

Specific areas in San Elizario and Socorro were hit much harder than the rest of the county. Mud washed into homes, destroying properties and burying vehicles, and some neighborhoods have seen little improvement since then. Walking around some parts of Socorro you can still smell the stench of rotten food in the air where people lost power, gas and water.

Mark Matthys, the executive director of the local Red Cross, told commissioners his organization backed the disaster declaration 100 percent. Matthys said it would help move the aid process forward.

"We're doing the most we can to clean up the homes that do remain livable," said Matthys.

That process involves ripping out flooring, drywall that was under water at one point and removing furniture and other items that were waterlogged. The homes deemed salvageable will still need a lot of work.

While the process is under way, the ultimate goal is to get people back into homes or into one that can replace what they once had.

While some people will get a chance to move into homes as part of the county's "rapid re-housing" program, not everyone will remain in the county. Some people, depending on where they get the money, would have to move into homes in the city of El Paso.

Commissioners voted unanimously to move the process forward. They also approved an additional $80,000 to go into the general assistance fund.

County Judge Veronica Escobar announced a special meeting with be held at 3 p.m. to discuss a natural disaster declaration for El Paso county. County workers, the El Paso Red Cross and others will be on hand to explain the process for those who need help.

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