by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
They came from many states and multiple countries. They were Caucasian, African-American, Oriental, Hispanic, various cultures, origins, and religions. They were police officers, fire fighters, National Guard units, Swat teams, the Cajun Navy, ordinary citizens, and even television crews. They utilized municipal trucks, military trucks, monster trucks, and dump trucks; they skippered large boats, small boats, john boats, ski boats, fishing boats, air boats, canoes, and jet skis. They were the heroes and heroines of the Hurricane Harvey rescue effort, and they employed whatever means they could to help bring their fellow human beings to safety.
An angry Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with, but the human spirit in Texas and Louisiana is proving it won’t be taken down easily. While there have been a significant number of deaths — around 50 — and devastating damage that will cause hardship and heartache for so many people for a very long time to come, the strength, courage, determination, and “unsinkable” will that is necessary to endure such a tragedy has already emerged.
Many of the victims of the recent flood have been through this horrible catastrophe before, hoping against hope that it would never happen to them again, but, sadly, it has. Some residents of the area have, in the past, escaped the grim ruin and loss that results from a severe tropical storm, but regrettably, not this time. And, to add insult to injury, so many of the victims didn’t have flood insurance. The harsh reality of recovery will be too much for some — rightfully so — and they will relocate, rather than rebuild. But, for a large number of South Texas and South Louisiana residents, they will dig in and face the overwhelming task of putting their lives and their homes back together again. They will be aided by friends and family, and they will also likely receive assistance from sources they have never met — and probably never will.
Not only have people lost all of their possessions, and their homes are damaged beyond belief, but schools and businesses have been critically damaged or destroyed. Hope, however, almost immediately began to materialize during the early hours of the reality of the destruction of Harvey. High profile entertainers and businesses have donated untold amounts of money to the relief effort. Organizations across the country have implemented “Adopt a Classroom” programs, and the Houston Independent School District announced that it had received approval from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Texas Department of Agriculture to waive the required application process for the National School Lunch/Breakfast Program. All registered HISD students will eat all school meals for free during the 2017–2018 school year.
The generosity of spirit, financial aid, and goods from people across the country and elsewhere has been awe-inspiring during this catastrophic event, demonstrating, yet again, the undying — yet often buried under political and religious differences — human bond. When tragedy strikes, basic kindness, more often than not, outmatches the tendency to do nothing or to exploit a situation.
Soon after Harvey began dumping water, the owner of a mattress company opened his doors to provide shelter for the evacuees and to offer some badly needed rest for the National Guard units. A beer manufacturer switched from canning beer to canning water to help victims. Bakers baked bread and gave it away. Barbers gave free shaves and cuts in evacuation centers. “Spider Man” entertained victims at shelters to boost morale, and gospel singers lifted spirits with their soulful music. Medical professionals from other cities provided their services for no monetary compensation. The owner of a ranch north of the flooded area in Texas offered free grazing land as well as food for the animals if the owners couldn’t provide it. Not only was the Humane Society rescuing animals from roof tops and attics, but ordinary people were moving them in Tupperware containers. There were staggering rescues by Black Hawks, and passers-by formed a human chain to save an elderly man who was caught in his truck in rapidly moving water.
Witnessing these compassionate, sympathetic, and generous gestures during this recovery effort, offers a glimmer of hope for the recovery of the human race. In the face of the frightening, troubled, divisive world in which we find ourselves, optimism is badly needed. The extraordinary acts of human kindness that began even before the storm hit and before the horrific damage became evident, offers that promise. I vote for erecting monuments to honor human benevolence.
The flood waters in Texas and Louisiana are receding, but the support continues, as people recognize that the need will be there for a long, long time to come. As Hurricane Irma is already wreaking havoc and threatens to be one of the worst hurricanes in our history, the relief effort there has already begun. Below is an article published on Facebook that offers some valuable advice on how to help the victims of these catastrophic events. DFC
Matt Williams/Houston, Texas
HOW TO HELP THE FLOODED
I’m not much for writing long posts, but I’m making an exception in hopes it helps the flooded.
TRAUMA IS TRICKY
A flooded home is a traumatic event. Like any trauma, it is tricky to know how to help someone experiencing such a terrible ordeal.
Jen and I flooded on Memorial Day 2015 (see photo) and again on Tax Day 2016. The second flood came just days after completing the restoration and decoration of our house from the first flood. If cruelty was a color, we saw red for a long time.
Flood victims often experience what I liken to shell-shock meets heart break meets chaos. Toss in moments of exhaustion, terror, and rage, and you’ve got a pretty fair description of what’s in store.
When people wrestle with trauma like this, one of the last things they will ask for is help, but it’s what they need most.
BE THE TORTOISE
The good news is that if you want to help someone who has flooded, the best way is to show up.
Helping the flooded comes with an understanding that this is a marathon, not a sprint. They’ll need you more in the weeks after when most have moved on, and the adrenaline has worn off. So pace your help and pace yourself. Be the tortoise.
If you know someone who flooded, get out your calendar and pick a day or two a week for the next ten weeks or more and write down “show up.”
One day drop off something and say hi. Another day work for an hour or two. And another day have them over for dinner on a weekend. If you can only do one thing, one time, then do it. No act of showing up is too small. Dropping off a hot cup of coffee will be remembered for years to come.
As a rule, don’t just ask if they need anything, ask if they need anything else. Say “I’m coming by with trash bags and lunch, need anything else?” This signals that you’ve already committed to coming by. They’re likely to tell you what else they need.
Jennifer Castillo De Williams and I will never forget when someone we hardly knew drove up to the side of our yard. It was so full of flooded belongings that the driver didn’t get out. She rolled down her window and handed over a giant bag of Chick-fil-A. She smiled, offered her sympathies and drove off. We were exhausted, caked in mud, and heart broken, and in that moment, Chick-fil-A never tasted so good.
We promised we would remember how simple gestures like this meant so much to us at the time. They offered beautiful brief moments of normalcy in between many long abnormal ones.
Help of this kind is fairly easy. Try to work it into your weekday or weekend routines. Plan ways to make thoughtful gestures for anyone you know who has flooded.
LIFE ON MARS
When you flood, you might as well be on Mars. Everything that was easy and familiar is now complex and foreign. You can’t find files, documents, cards, keys, devices…you name it. Simple tasks get sucked into massive black holes of work. It’s maddening.
Then there are the things of sentimental value: the drawings from the kids; the shoes they wore on their first step; the wedding album. Those treasures, they’re all gone.
Yes, it’s just stuff, but make no mistake, sifting through the filthy wreckage that was once your life’s memories is brutal. You will have some good, long cries as you toss them out en masse. But you will get through it, and you’ll be tougher for it, maybe even enlightened.
Those who survive the salvos of Houston’s floods enter a club that knows something about loss and have an appreciation for what matters most. For me, it brought a little less whining.
Be aware there is something unsettling that lingers for some club members. I suppose it’s a kind of PTSD that seeps in between the evacuations and ridiculous toil. When I hear the rain now, it’s no longer my soothing friend. It’s kind of a sinister thing that taunts me when I look outside to see what’s snaking its way up to the door.
It comes down to this: every thoughtful thing you can do to help someone recover from a flood is probably one less thing they’ll have to manage alongside their overwhelming grief.
So try to give the flooded a few moments of peace in what feels like a surreal unprovoked war.
Here are some practical ways to “show up” by bringing or doing stuff.
Stuff you can bring
-Face masks and work gloves to reduce exposure to mold and other particulate matter. Be aware that if you are using hazardous solvents for cleaning you may need half-face respirators with cartridges.
-Cases of bottled water
-Antimicrobial spray designed to fully kill mold (turns out that bleach is less effective than many believe, especially because it does not prevent the regrowth of mold). Concrobium brand mold control spray kills and prevents mold. It is sold at Home Depot and other home supply places. Remember to wear a face mask when you spray the studs to kill and prevent mold after damaged sheet rock has been removed
-Floor fans or dehumidifiers
-Old newspapers for packing items
-Cases of paper towels
-Cases of toilet paper
-Cases of sanitizing wipes
-Battery powered camping lanterns
-Pop up tables to place and stage smaller important stuff
-Drop cloths and tarps for staging bigger, good stuff that protect it from wet floors or yards
-Hammers, blade utility knives
-Sharpees of different sizes and colors
-Good first aid kit (many cuts and scrapes during clean up)
-Rolls of duct tape and packing tape
-Plastic bins/containers of different sizes with lids
-Cardboard boxes (small, medium, and large)
-Bags (contractor, trash, gallon zip locks) -House cleaning solvents
-Bug repellent (mosquitoes are vicious inside a hot, muggy, muddy flooded house)
-Fast Food. Forget the healthy stuff for the moment; it’s about convenience, comfort, and containers that you can eat from quickly and toss. Buy several kinds of fast foods and just leave it. Someone will eat it and be thankful.
-Boxes filled with easy to eat snacks (chips, bars, nuts, candy, and fun stuff) gives a happy break to long grueling days
-Paper plates, plastic utensils, cups, napkins
-Prepared Foods are nice but more complicated
-Gift cards for food (this is for a dinner after a long day, they can get take out at their hotel or temporary place instead of having to cook)
-Gift cards to Marshalls, Target, Walmart, Lowes (they can get clothes, supplies, and other needs)
-Clean old or cheap t-shirts that can be worn as “throw-aways” during clean up
-Clean bedding sheets, blankets, pillows
Stuff you can do
-Check electricity for hazards. You’re in a house where water and electricity have just been combined so be aware of a hazard of electrical shock and short circuiting. It’s hot, you need power for dehumidifiers and a gazillion other things, but think first and be sure before you flick the switch.
-Remove items destroyed by the flood and stage items not destroyed. This is an emotionally difficult thing and process. It’s understandable that you’ll want to believe some things can be saved and want to keep them, so keep them, reality will guide you soon enough. Just don’t bring wet things into storage units, they will stink up and destroy other good, dry things. No “bad apples.”
-Cut out wet sheetrock at least a foot above the water line. Wear a mask since there may be mold and other particulates you don’t want to breathe. Use an anti-mold spray like the one listed in my first list of “stuff to bring.”
-Laundry (We loved this. People would come by and put a bunch of dirty clothes in a bag, wash, and return them folded to us)-Write tasks that need to be done on big post it notes and put them on the wall near the entrance of the house or a pop-up table so people coming in can grab one and do the task. Tell them to try to write a new task on the wall to replace the one they did for someone else to do…create an auto filling “to do” board.
-Pull out flooring/carpet (wear gloves and goggles to protect from contaminated flood waters…mostly it’s the E.coli and fecal coliform that can get into open cuts, eyes, mouths, or noses).
-Position and maintain fans/dehumidifiers throughout house
-When sorting through good stuff from bad stuff our “general” rule is: if flood water touched it, it’s destroyed. But there are exceptions. Clothes, for example, can usually be cleaned. Photos and other documents and sometimes be dried out too.
-Haul what’s destroyed into piles in the yard for pick up by city -Pack and label belongings that might still be good -Stage “still good” boxes or plastic bin containers and load in a POD onsite; or on a rental truck for storage
I remember the first day after we flooded. The father of my son’s girlfriend asked me what to do. I was still looking at all the loss, so I struggled to give him any useful direction. He quickly realized the situation and said, “I’m going to separate good stuff from bad stuff.” I nodded and he and some other guys went to work. Hours later we had piles in the yard, and the house was beginning to clean out. I have many examples of people who came from nowhere to help us in many ways, then left without ever knowing their names to thank.
After a flood, there’s so much to do, just guess, and you’ll probably be doing something beneficial.
Last, there’s “stuff you can share” that takes more time and commitment but means a lot
-Share your car or truck for rides, pick-ups/drop-offs -Share your garage to store their stuff that survived -Share your home for temporary living, food, showers or laundry (obvious, but important)
No one who has flooded wants to live with someone else or use their stuff. Understand how much it sucks to be so helpless, it’s dehumanizing. The best thing you can do is quietly insist and get to it.
For those who are too far away from Houston to physically show up, there are a number of places to donate money. I like this one by the Texan football player JJ Watts.
There is a lot to unpack here. For those who made it this far down the post, I hope you found it helpful.
There were so many people who opened their hearts, homes, and hardworking hands to us that I still get overwhelmed by their generosity. People are a lot of things, but what we witnessed in our hours, days, weeks, and months of need was on the pure side of love. Know that it’s out there and it’s there for you.
For our friends who flooded from Harvey, no need to leave a light on, we’ll bring you a new one.
Photo 1: USA Today
Photo 2: ABC News
Photo 3: Chicago Tribune