Hurricane Harvey: Baptist DR units prepare for 'long-term' work

Published: September 5, 2017

Texas National Guard soldiers rescue residents in heavily flooded areas of Houston after Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 27. (Photo by Lt. Zachary West.)

HOUSTON—Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units have begun deployment for what could be the largest relief effort the state of Texas has seen. With destruction from Hurricane Harvey covering almost a quarter of the state, DR leaders said their greatest need will be people and finances.

As of Aug. 31, Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief teams were still on standby, waiting for rains to subside and flood waters to recede, which was not forecasted until sometime Wednesday. Most areas remain inaccessible, but chaplains, mud-out crews and feeding units should be ready to deploy to Texas in the days and weeks ahead, said Coy Webb, state DR director.

“We are asking that, as the Lord leads, please pray and give now, so we can help those families and churches impacted by this storm and flood,” Webb urged.

By Monday morning, news outlets were reporting that Hurricane Harvey had already dropped 11 trillion gallons of rain over south Texas. Officials have declared 62 counties disaster areas following the initial destruction caused by 132 mph wind gusts and unprecedented levels of rainfall.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders expected some of the hardest-hit regions to be accessible only to search and rescue teams.

Calls for help have come from Corpus Christi, where the storm made landfall, and up the I-35 corridor to San Antonio, Austin, Waco and back down to the greater Houston area, which is floundering under as much as 25 inches of rain in places.

“This is going to be a record setter,” said Gordon Knight, Southern Baptists of Texas’ director of chaplains. “This is huge, and we’re gearing up for a long-term stay.”

Harvey exceeded forecast predictions and plowed ashore early Aug. 26 as a Category 4 hurricane. It moved inland toward Victoria where it lingered, sending bands of torrential rain to cities south and southwest of Houston 126 miles away. With winds diminished to tropical storm levels, attention turned to the Houston area as communities were submerged late Saturday and emergency centers were issuing mandatory evacuations.

The rain had abated Sunday in League City, where as much as 23 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, raising the waters of Clear Creek to historic levels and threatening residents of the Devereux treatment facility that sits on its banks. But with a steady rain Monday and the creek still out of its banks, the 145 residents and staff boarded buses heading to Latham Springs Baptist Camp north of Waco.

Water covers the roads and floods the Devereux residential treatment facility in League City, near Houston. The residents and staff were sent to a Baptist camp north of Waco. (Photo by Bonnie Pritchett)

Devereux residential treatment facilities serve children and adults suffering from abuse, serious emotional disturbances, mental health and developmental disabilities.

They joined another 250 residents from another Devereux facility in Victoria and staff of Palacios Baptist Encampment, who had already been evacuated once before. Mike Wilson, camp director, said the facility is prepared to handle the influx of new residents and the response for regular camp volunteers has been overwhelming.

A laundry and shower unit with a chaplain has been deployed to help primarily with the laundry needs at the camp. Knight said more clean-up, flood recovery, shower and mass feeding units are preparing to deploy to Rockport, Corpus Christi, Austin, Houston and other locations, but are awaiting the all clear from officials letting them know roads are passable.

According to a statement from Texas Baptists’ disaster relief ministry, teams were being advised that they must be self-sufficient since there is no water, power or telephone service in hard-hit areas.

Knight said the Texas convention’s field ministry strategists from the hardest-hit regions serve as the disaster relief ministry’s “eyes and ears” and are assessing the needs and the crews’ ability to access the region.

Even without having been to the devastated regions, Knight, a 10-year disaster relief veteran, said the biggest need will be volunteers.

“Thank goodness we have sister conventions that respond,” he said recalling the crews from other states, including Kentucky, that have come to Texas’ aid in the past.

Trained volunteers will be needed for months Knight said. While some responders get power and water activated and leave town once that work is done, Southern Baptist disaster relief stays there for the duration, he noted.

“We’re telling folks realistically until Thanksgiving. That’s a conservative estimate,” Knight said. (BP/WR)