September 13, 2017
MDS takes first steps in Harvey response
Bloomington, Tex. — When Hurricane Harvey barreled ashore around Rockport, Texas, its Category 4 fury showed no mercy as it tore through the cotton fields and small towns of Victoria, Calhoun, Aransas and Refugio counties of southeast Texas.
It then stopped overhead, swirled around like a Texas-two step dancer, headed back out to the Gulf of Mexico, re-energized, before marching north and back inland to dump an unprecedented 50 inches of rain on the Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur environs.
Left behind in the coastal flatlands south of Houston were devastated towns, some of which on any normal day, tend to be forgotten. Some serve mainly as labor feeders to the farms and petro-chemical plants surrounding them.
When it was deemed safe for townsfolk to return they found in some cases complete devastation. In Bloomington alone 500-600 of the 800 homes sustained some level of damage. Other towns did not even fair that well.
For Victoria County commissioner, Danny Garcia, he knew that with the Houston flooding occupying the front row in news coverage, it was likely these towns would fall off the list of places in need.
His concern was not so much for relief supplies coming in. The tiny gym of the Bloomington First Baptist church was stuffed with diapers, food, clothing, water, more than enough clothing, and just about everything else folks needed to survive.
What worried him was two weeks, a month, six months from now. Bloomington was already an economically stressed community. How would they recover?
“The area that I represent, we have some of the areas that need the most help,” Garcia said standing on the porch of a damaged home in Bloomington. “At times, they are underserved.”
A week earlier with the flood waters only beginning to recede and the shock of what just happened with Harvey only sinking in, Garcia was at the emergency operations center in the county seat Victoria.
It was there that he unexpectedly met a Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) investigation team who arrived in southeast Texas only a day earlier.
After several years of working in Bastrop, Tex., an hour north and west from Victoria, the MDS team knew the region well. As recently as last April MDS completed rebuilding in Bastrop after a series of fires, floods and tornados stretching back to 2011.
The team rolled into Victoria just to check things out, to see where there was need. As they were preparing to leave, a volunteer coordinator called them back and said they needed to meet Garcia.
“We were just about to our car when we were called back to meet Danny,” Kevin King, MDS executive director said. “Danny was near tears as we spoke and heard about Bloomington and other towns south and east of Victoria that are barely on the map.”
The MDS team drove the dozen miles from Victoria to Bloomington and found an exhausted and nearly beaten town working to dig itself out from under downed trees, sheets of corrugated tin strewn in yards, roofs tore off, windows shattered and debris strewn everywhere.
“It didn’t take long for us to realize this was where we were supposed to be for now,” King said. “And we are there for a lot of reasons. There is tremendous need. These are towns that are often last on the list. They become first on our list.”
Within a few days MDS had a crew in place cleaning debris, laying tarps on roofs and even replacing some drywall. In the coming weeks, more MDS crews will arrived to continue the work in Bloomington and begin work in other towns.
“I would think that trying to find blessings in this environment are really tough if you look at the economic and material situation in the community. It is really hard,” Carl Dube the MDS project director for Bloomington said.
“There was one man we visited who said, ‘my friend loaned me a generator but I didn’t have money to put gas in it,’” he said.
Dube’s job during the first weeks of the MDS response is to find those who are in need and then assign the MDS crews to go do the work. The first on the list are the elderly, single mothers with children, those with disabilities or those in situations where they care for others with disabilities.
“So, you guys coming in, man, that is a big shot in the arm for us,” Garcia said. “I’m not quite sure where we would be right now if you guys hadn’t shown up.”
“When I ask some of you why you do this, why do you come and help some people that you don’t even know … and some of the answers are, well, this is what God wants us to do right now. So, that’s why you are here,” Garcia continued.
“What you guys are providing for us is hope, if there is nothing else, there is hope,” Garcia said.
MDS will continue to need donations and volunteers as its response to Hurricane Harvey grows in the coming weeks and months.
Story and photo by Mark Beach for MDS