Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Providing Help and Hope for People of Texas

By Leila Roche and Jennifer Marsh

Late October brought torrential rain and winds to Texas and many southern states. Houston received more than nine inches of rain in fewer than 24 hours as the remnants of Hurricane Patricia – the second Pacific hurricane on record to make landfall at its intensity – passed through and added to the impact of existing storms passing through the region.

Volunteers Peggy Johnson (L) and Larry Cornet after
from deployment to help with floods in Texas. Photo
by Walter Palmer, American Red Cross
Rain swelled rivers and flooded roads in parts of the Houston area. Other areas were hit harder: The tiny town of Powell in Navarro County got 20 inches of rain over 30 hours. Many areas also sustained tornado damage, as well.

Two Colorado Red Cross volunteers deployed to Houston, Texas to assist with response efforts.

These are their stories in their words:

Larry Cornett, Volunteer ERV Driver
Originally, we were called into service to assist Austin when Houston was still being impacted by the storms. By the time we got there, the need in Houston had escalated, and we were sent there once we reached Austin.

Larry Cornett (in ERV) and Peggy Johnson (L) load the
ERV with the help of another Red Crossw volunteer
before heading to flood stricken areas. Ohoto by
Mark Bishop, American Red Cross
Our Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) was loaded with everything: cleaning kits, bleach, trash bags, shovels, tarps, gloves, respirators. Our job when we got to Harris County was to capture the initial damage assessments and provide districts with supplies.

There was tornado damage when we got there – mostly roof damage and fences down. But there were a few houses that were completely destroyed.

There was one couple I talked to. Their home was destroyed by one of the tornados. The mom said she was able to grab their daughter and make it into the bathtub. But their 15-year-old son was sleeping, so the dad, Raj, grabbed him, and they took cover under the bed. They said the air pressure was so strong windows were blowing out throughout the house. Then, the roof lifted up – entirely off the house – and fell back down. It was all over in about 30 seconds, and no one was injured – thankfully. But the aftermath was devastating for them. Insulation from the attic was strewn over a three-house area – it looked like it’d snowed. And the roof caved into the house in front and was completely gone in the rear.

“We were spared by the grace of God,” Raj said. “It’s a miracle we were unharmed. The house had disintegrated around us.”

Before we left, he thanked us for our help and support – mental and emotional, too. He said it was comforting having the Red Cross there to assist him and his family on their road to recovery. I mean, that’s the entire purpose of the Red Cross – we are there when disaster strikes and when people need support and direction in dire times. It’s truly a privilege to provide comfort to others.

Peggy Johnson, Volunteer ERV Driver
Hurricane Patricia came through the southern Houston area about a week before we deployed. We loaded the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) and drove down from Colorado with cleaning kits, bleach, tarps, trash bags, water, gloves and other cleaning supplies from the disaster response operation warehouse.

Volunteer Peggy Johnson gets a welcome hug
from Dee after providing her with cleanup supplies.
Photo by  Mark Bishop, American Red Cross
We were in a flooded area where people had water levels of 4-6 inches inside their homes. When we arrived on the scene, people were happy to see us. The response was very positive. They were so happy to have some time to talk to us about what they had been experiencing over the last week.

One client in particular I remember well. She was so appreciative. Her name was “Dee.” She showed us the water level on her house. There was a bayou nearby that washed out the area. She was really frustrated with the red tape of trying to get disaster relief from the local authorities. She’d been going to City Hall every day for a week without results. She couldn’t believe it when we gave her supplies to clean and disinfect her home, a case of bottled water and even a shovel to clean out the debris – all free.

Before leaving, we gave her the contact number for the Red Cross so she could have a caseworker come out to provide her with further assistance. She hugged and thanked us for quite a while before we headed out to assist others in the neighborhood.

“You are all angels from heaven. I so appreciate y’all so much,” she said. “You have brought hope to my home. You are a blessing.”

Volunteer Peggy Johnson Hands out supplies to a waiting
crown near Houston. Photo by Mark Bishop, American Red Cross
We pulled into one neighborhood, announced we were there with cleanup items and suddenly we were inundated. People clamoring for supplies like water, bleach and shovels. They helped us hand out the supplies and helped each other get what they needed. They were very happy to see us and grateful for the support we provided.

It was such a gratifying experience – being there to help when the need was the greatest.

A large crowd gathers behind the ERV to get cleanup
supplies to help recover from devastating floods in Texas
Photo by Mark Bishop,American Red Cross

The American Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters in America every year ranging from hurricanes to house fires. Dozens of Colorado Red Cross disaster volunteers deployed to disaster from South Carolina floods to Washington wildfires. They give their time and compassion to bring help and hope to people affected by disaster. We salute all of our volunteers and thank them for their service.

If you would like to help the Red Cross keep the promise of hope go to to find out how to volunteer or donate. 

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