Lacey Mueller and her 6-year-old son Miles Mueller left their home in Refugio and drove all night Aug. 24 to escape the impending wrath of Hurricane Harvey.
At the concern of her husband, Dustin Mueller, she loaded up her son, two dogs and four horses and barreled toward Waco to stay with friends. He stayed behind to watch over the ranch they lived on and to help with any recovery efforts, she said.
The next day, their town about 20 miles inland from Rockport bore the brunt of the 130 mph winds and devastating rain the Category 4 Hurricane carried.
Now Miles, a new first-grader at China Spring Elementary School, is one of at least 11 Harvey evacuees enrolled in McLennan County school districts as of Friday.
It remains unclear how many evacuees schools will continue to take in for the coming weeks, district officials said.
The city of Waco was set to open Red Cross shelters and an evacuee reception center Sunday to serve self-evacuees, but there is no clear estimate of how many will come.
“The night of the storm, I wasn’t able to talk to him for three hours,” Lacey Mueller said of her husband. “He was staying at our boss’ house, which has 3-foot concrete walls and is basically built to withstand a missile. I knew they would be safe, but he called me at 1 a.m. and sent me a message. My husband’s a tough guy. He’s not into that mushy stuff but he said, ‘Please pray for us. It’s tearing this house apart. Honey, please be prepared. We probably won’t have a house to go home to.’ ”
Much of Refugio, a town of about 2,800 people, was destroyed in the storm.
Lacey Mueller, who is originally from Waco, moved there several years ago to be with her family. Her husband also stars in “Wildlifers,” a hunting and outdoor reality show on the Sportsman Channel, she said.
“At 3:30 p.m., he texted me and said the eye of the hurricane was over them and he was able to get out for about 45 minutes and drive around the ranch,” Lacey Mueller said. “I asked him, ‘What about the (other) horses?’ and he said, ‘They’re all going to be dead.’ It was all these emotions, and when he got out, the horses were fine. The horse barn was gone. All the tin on it was gone. Our hay barn is gone, but the horses were alive. Isn’t that amazing? God is so good, and he was able to see our house was standing.”
Miles was counting the days until this weekend, when he got to see his father for the first time since the storm. And his father is also looking forward getting some much needed rest while he is in Waco, Lacey Mueller said.
Like other school districts, China Spring ISD has rolled out the welcome mat to make sure evacuees feel as welcome as possible, no matter how long they stay. The district is hosting a supply drive and has opened a fund with a local bank to help relief and recovery efforts.
So far, the district has raised about $900 in donations to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that one of Miles' fellow first-graders set up with his family at Pointwest Bank near China Spring, Lacey Mueller said. Any supplies donated to the school district will be taken back on her weekend visits as her husband continues to help the town recover, she said.
“Every building in our district has sustained damage. We have one building that has minimal damage, and that’s our athletic facility,” Refugio ISD Superintendent Melissa Gonzales said. “We’re talking roofs blown off, water damage, just those types of things.”
The district could be fully operational again by Sept. 25 at the earliest, but that would be quite an accomplishment to pull off, Gonzales said. Despite having no water or electricity, she and others in her town have been working day and night to start recovering, she said.
Refugio ISD has three campuses and 20 buildings overall, and the district serves 740 students, Gonzales said. She said she is grateful for donations and support the district has received from others across the state, and the recovery work would not be possible without it.
“The best thing I could do for them is restore our school and restore any normalcy in their lives and give them that hope,” Gonzales said. “The town is just devastated, it’s very depressing. There’s tress everywhere. It’s a depressing sight. Our school is the heart of our town, and I wanted to show we’re fighting back.”
Waco ISD has enrolled six displaced students between Kendrick Elementary School, J.H. Hines Elementary School and Parkdale Elementary School. The district is not expecting a large influx of students displaced by the storm in the coming weeks, spokesperson Kyle DeBeer said.
The disaster hits close to home for Waco ISD Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson, who is in his first year leading the district. Nelson spent summers in Corpus Christi as a child and worked closely with several superintendents in the Houston an Beaumont areas, all of which are heavily impacted by the hurricane.
“This is an incredible tragedy, and the families who have lost loved ones have our most sincere condolences,” Nelson wrote in a statement to the Tribune-Herald Thursday. “I hope the communities affected by this storm know that Waco stands with the rest of Texas to support them.
“That includes students across our district, who have been collecting supplies and donations. I’m so proud of the kindness that our kids have shown and their eagerness to help. Those are character traits that we want to instill in all of our graduates.”
Six Waco ISD schools hosted Hurricane Harvey donation drives throughout the week.
La Vega ISD has welcomed three Harvey evacuees, one at La Vega Intermediate School and two at La Vega Elementary School, spokesperson Lori Mynarcik said. La Vega High School students and staff have also adopted KIPP High School in Houston by collecting school supplies, non-perishable food and clothes.
Lorena ISD has also had one displaced student enroll, and the district partnered with China Spring ISD during Friday night’s football game to take up donations for the American Red Cross relief efforts along the coast, Superintendent Joe Kucera said.
Most of the other school districts in McLennan County haven’t received any displaced students, but are in a “wait and see mode” in case families head north after they evaluate damage to their homes, superintendents said throughout the week. Superintendents know families have found refuge in their towns, but it’s unclear whether the evacuees will be enrolling their children in the district or returning home in the near future, they said.
In the meantime, other districts in the area will continue to help how they can through donation drives for recovery and for evacuees in the area. The districts took up donations or partnered with other local entities this week for Hurricane Harvey evacuees. Riesel ISD made donations to evacuees staying at a nursing home Marlin. Marlin ISD Superintendent Michael Seabolt would not comment about whether his district had enrolled any displaced students.
Back at China Spring Elementary, Miles is trying to make the most of his time with his new classmates and teacher until he can return home, Lacey Mueller said.
Too shy to say much, he said things are good and his new teacher is nice. As of Friday, he was looking forward to seeing his father again and his first visit to McLane Stadium to watch the first Baylor University football game of the season with tickets donated by the school, Lacey Mueller said.
“Everyone’s alive. That’s the main thing,” she said. “We can rebuild everything else.”