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Hurricane Harvey brings out the best and worst in people

Hurricane Harvey brings out the best and worst in people
The three Rs of Response: Rescue ... Relief ... Recovery

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
August 30, 2017

I live an hour-and-a-half north of Houston so I have been in the feeder bands of Hurricane Harvey since last Thursday (Aug 24). That evening, as I went to Wal-Mart to get gas, light rain started falling. I was not the only one who was wanting to top off their tank before the winds started and the rains kicked up, but gas was already running low. Regular gas was sold out, so I opted for high test.

Thursday, Harvey was already headed for Rockport on the southern coast of Texas packing 130 mph winds. It made landfall late Friday night and the forecast was that the hurricane would drift eastward to Houston with projections of as much as 48 inches of raining falling on Texas' largest city.

Even though I come from northern Wisconsin, I have lived through hurricanes in five states: Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Maine. This is my third in Texas -- Rita, Ike and now Harvey. I rode out Hurricane Andrew in the Courthouse of New Iberia Parish for USA Today. I know how strong a hurricane can be. During the height of Andrew's fury, the courthouse shook!

Once I fueled, I headed home and hunkered down. I made sure I had food, water, candles and that my cell phone was charged while I still had electricity. I was concerned and checked out evacuation routes and shelters. I live in a wooded area and worry about trees falling due to super-saturated ground. I have had at least 20 inches of rain at my place and my neighbor's house started to flood. The rising water in the yard crept up to the bottom of my ramp before it stopped.

Now, as downgraded Tropical Storm Harvey travels further east, eyeing Louisiana and points northeast, I am no longer in his feeder bands and the five days' worth of rain has ended and the sun has poked out showing patches of blue.

I do not, by choice, have a television, but I do have a computer, so I was able to follow the progression of Harvey via the Internet and YouTube's 24-hour live streaming of Houston TV news coverage for as long as the power held out.

Parts of Houston received at least 50 inches of rain as a direct result of Harvey causing catastrophic flooding on the level of what happened in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Images unfolded on my computer screen of neighbors helping neighbors out of flooded houses and submerged vehicles.

And I thanked God for them. The images of Houstonians using their personal boats to rescue others as they created their own flotilla and joined with The National Guard and other first responders from Houston and Harris County.

This is what it is to be a Christian. This is what it is to be an American. This is what it is to be a Texan. That is what it is to be a Houstonian. To unite together to accomplish a common goal.

What has concerned me is that others have tried to politicize this "rain event." Where it is estimated that one trillion -- with a T -- trillion gallons of water fell on just Houston in three days, forcing people from their homes. Some parts of that city have received in excess of 50 inches of rain, overflowing the bayous, turning streets into rivers and neighborhoods into lakes.

This is not the time for politics or differences over doctrines. Yet the snarking on social media and even by out-of-town and out-of-state journalists, who are not on the ground sloshing through knee-deep water to get a story, is disheartening.

Tuesday, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania travelled to Texas to meet with Gov. Greg Abbott and encourage Texans during a time of unfolding crisis. And the media went wild over the fact that Mrs. Trump wore spike heels while walking to Marine One. However, she emerged from Air Force One in Austin wearing sneakers and sporting a FLOTUS baseball cap.

It is so easy to criticize and second guess decisions -- it's "damned if you do and damned if you don't."

"It is very sad that we have an active and ongoing natural disaster in Texas," the First Lady's office fired back," and people are worried about her (the First Lady's) shoes."

No matter what President Trump does, or Gov. Abbott or Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner or the First Lady or even Pastor Joel Osteen ... someone thinks it's wrong and broadcasts their biting, negative and unconstructive comments far and wide. It's easier to tear down than build up, especially when hidden behind a screen name on Twitter or a blog roll.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross is already on the ground in Houston and on the south Texas coast where Harvey first came ashore. So far more than 13,000 people have been rescued from flood waters and 30,000 have sought safety in hurricane shelters.

While some people are complaining and harping about the politicians' response to the unfolding disaster, others are looting or price-gouging. Since preparations for Harvey started, nearly 1,000 complaints have been registered with the Texas Attorney General's office about scammers.

One store was accused of selling much-needed bottled water for $42 a case and there are reports that other stores have put a $100 price tag on the clear liquid. Some gas stations, also, were also selling gas for $10 a gallon until they ran out and motels increased their room prices by 300 and 400 percent.

Once Harvey has dissipated and the final Houstonian has been rescued, the churches, and other philanthropic organizations, move in to help start the recovery and rebuilding process.

Franklin Graham is gearing up to unleash the resources of Samaritan's Purse. He has already staged his disaster units in Texas. He urges that people "Pray for Texas."

"Samaritan's Purse disaster relief units are now in Texas as Harvey's deadly fury has moved inland and continues to pummel the state, especially flood-prone Houston," the website says. "Our teams are ready to go in and help homeowners in Jesus' Name as soon as we are able to access affected communities."

The Episcopal Church is also mounting Texas relief efforts. Rockport and surrounding areas are in the Diocese of West Texas.

"In the Diocese of West Texas, Harvey's force left some of the coastal communities in ruins, now without power or infrastructure, and it may take weeks for those to be restored," the diocesan website explains. "We know there are many people concerned about the communities that have been affected, and everyone wants to know how they can help."

The diocese is seeking donations and volunteers to assembly hygiene kits to help meet an immediate need, since many people were forced from their homes with just the clothes on their backs.

"At this time, there is still much that remains unknown. While news coverage and social media are providing continual information, it is still difficult to gain clarity and coherence, particularly in the worst hit areas," bishops David M. Reed (X West Texas) and Jennifer Brooke-Davidson (West Texas suffragan) wrote. "We need to be mindful that Harvey is also doing damage in coastal areas of the Diocese of Texas. We've been in touch with the bishops there and will look for ways to collaborate in recovery efforts."

West Texas is also actively coordinating with Episcopal Relief and Development to meet the recovery needs of the diocese as they become known.

"We have been contacted by numerous bishops from around the country, assuring us of the prayers of their diocese and of their support for recovery efforts," the bishops wrote. "Likewise, staff members from Episcopal Relief and Development have begun coordinating relief efforts and have made themselves available to West Texas as we respond to this disaster. We are grateful and encouraged by the prayers and the support."

Over in the neighboring Diocese of Texas, Bishop Andrew Doyle (X Texas) is busy meeting the needs in his diocese which is based in Houston.

"Once the storm and danger has passed we will begin planning deployment of our Spiritual Care teams to affected areas," the Houston bishop posted on his website. "We will, are now, and will continue to assess area damage as we get information from multiple sources and evaluate ways we can make an effective response. An overall strategy will be developed and a coordinated response will be managed collaboratively working with our congregations. We will then implement a strategy and coordinate with resources."

Episcopal Relief and Development is focusing on three aspects -- the three Rs of a disaster response -- Rescue, Relief, and Recovery.

"The Rescue phase is focused on saving lives and securing property, and is most acute in those parts of a region that are directly flooded. The Rescue phase can take one to two weeks, sometimes longer," ER&D website explains. "In the case of Harvey, the disaster hasn't yet stopped and so the Rescue phase is taking place in the midst of the crisis ..."

During the rescue stage, ACNA's Church of the Apostles has become a small scale Red Cross shelter for four displaced families. The George R. Brown Convention Center is currently housing 9,000 evacuees. Other mega overflow shelters include the NRG Stadium, where the Houston Texans play; the Toyota Center where the Houston Rockets play; and Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church.

"The Church of the Apostles (Houston) is busy serving as an official Red Cross shelter," the Anglican Relief & Development Fund (AR&DF) website explains. "However, the four families sheltering at the church need our prayers!"

"Most of them have lost everything, experienced severe trauma and are still in shock. Tomorrow we'll be working with them to determine how we can best assist them going forward," explained Apostles' rector Fr. David Cumbie. "Please pray for them. For protection, healing and that the peace of the Holy Spirit to fill our facility. Lord Jesus, we pray they would see you and now your powerful presence in this difficult time.

ACNA Bishop Clark Lowenfield (I Western Gulf Coast) is also on the ground in Houston and spearheading ACNA's relief effort on behalf of the AR&DF.

"These are catastrophic times right now in Houston and southeast Texas," Bishop Lowenfield explained. "We don't know what the devastation is going to be like yet ... There is going to be more need than resources as the Body of Christ reaches out to those who are hurting."

ER&D said that it is starting to prepare for stage two -- relief. "We and our partners began preparing for this phase as soon as it was clear how massive Harvey was going to be. During this phase, the local church will be one of the first places people go to seek assistance and shelter ... This is where Episcopal Relief & Development is focusing its resources right now.

Then ER&D reminds the public that disaster response is a marathon not a sprint.

"For those of us observing and praying from afar, it's important to remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint," the website offers. In addition, the tricky part is responding in a way that is timely and appropriate. Understanding the phases of a disaster can be useful in determining how you can help."

Charitable organizations like Samaritan's Purse and Episcopal Relief & Development and ARDF are in it for the long haul. When the TV cameras are turned off, they will still be there helping with the recovery stage of rebuilding lives.

"During this (recovery) period, the emphasis shifts to restoring services, repairing houses and buildings, returning individuals to self-sufficiency and rebuilding communities," the ER&D blog explains. "The challenge of the Recovery phase is that most of the television cameras have moved on, but the human suffering has grown. It is a chronic state, not a crisis."

It is during the final recovery phase that the church excels because the local church is a part of the fabric of the community that has been impacted, so the church can best identify ongoing concerns and work with the community to address those needs efficiently.

Samaritan's Purse, ERD and ARDF aren't the only Christians responding to Hurricane Harvey.

Already, the Salvation Army is on the ground "providing food and hydration to first responders and is preparing for massive feeding efforts for residents."

The Methodists (United Methodist Committee on Relief), the Catholics (Texas Catholic Conference) the Lutherans (Lutheran Disaster Response); the Presbyterians (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance); Assembly of God (Convoy of Hope); Baptists (Southern Baptists of Texas Convention); the Jews (Jewish Federations of North America) and other faith groups all are working to help meet the growing needs of those left in the wake of Harvey's path.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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