Houston – This weekend marks the beginning of the anticipated influx of Church volunteers to Houston, from areas not affected by flooding. Hurricane Harvey, possibly the most expensive natural disaster in US history, had a large impact on much of the Texas Gulf Coast.
Harvey actually created two floods for many residents. The torrential rain inundated many homes with up to 50 inches falling in a three to four-day time span. Shortly after, the massive amounts of runoff flowing into area rivers and reservoirs caused even more damage as they overflowed their banks.
The Church structure, however, allows quick response on the part of local units. According to Elder Devn Cornish the General Authority Seventy on scene, “By the time headquarters could make contact with people, they were well on the process of ministering and rescuing and recovering.”
This weekend, large-scale recovery efforts organized by Church stakes in Austin and Dallas headed to Houston. Additionally, Stakes from San Antonio went to Corpus Christi and others from Southern Louisiana traveled to the Beaumont area.
Approximately 1,300 volunteers came from 5 stakes in Austin and an additional 2,300 came from the Dallas area to work in Houston. These combined with the local Houston area members already engaged in clean-up work totaled approximately 10,000 Mormon Helping Hands volunteers in service this weekend. Houston Church members have been working continuously to alleviate local needs since the flood took place.
The city of Houston is no stranger to the work of Mormon Helping Hands. In the floods of 2015, church member rendered such valuable service that then Mayor Anise Parker proclaimed June 24th to be Mormon Helping Hands Day in the City of Houston.
Typically, out of town volunteers leave their homes early Saturday morning and upon arrival go immediately to work for the remainder of the day. They eat, sleep, have a brief sacrament meeting Sunday morning in their work clothes, go back to work and later in the afternoon return to their homes.
Ryan Robinson President of the Cedar Park Texas Stake noted that members of his stake had been looking forward to the opportunity to come and serve. President Robinson stated, “in addition to serving, they’re listening and providing I think a sense of hope, a sense of energy and support for our brothers and sisters here in Houston”.
President Chris Woodfield of the Round Rock Texas Stake observed, “The stories just keep rolling in of individuals who had nowhere else to turn, and to be able to go and help them is really an opportunity for us to emulate the Savior.”
This weekend, four area High Schools happily hosted the out of town Church volunteers providing them a sheltered place to stay, shower facilities, a cafeteria to eat in and a clean space for the shortened Sacrament Meeting Sunday morning.
Hundreds of work parties of about eight to ten members go to individual homes that need to be cleaned or “mucked out”. Flood waters, often contaminated with impurities, deposits debris in homes and ruin everything they touch. Additionally, to halt the onset of mold, sheetrock on the walls needs to be removed two feet above the high-water mark in each home. Houston homes don’t have basements so Church work crews clean out the structure down to the bare floor and to the wall studs. This stops the immediate decline of the home’s condition, allows residents to safely remain in their homes and allows them to hire remodelers to perform repairs. Some are damaged so badly that they can’t be repaired.
Large-scale recovery efforts organized by stakes in the area will continue for some time. There is a sense of urgency to do as much remediation as soon as possible as the longer the homes remain in their flooded state, the lower the chances that they can be saved. Next weekend, another army of Mormon Helping Hands will descend to continue the work of recovery.
Elder Cornish noted, “The most remarkable thing has been the love and caring of the Latter-day Saints”.