by Bonnie Pritchett/Southern Baptist TEXAN
HOUSTON (BP) — As of August 29, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) 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.
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, SBTC 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 with winds topping 130 miles per hour. 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 evening. As of Monday (Aug. 28), emergency centers were still issuing mandatory evacuations for communities to the north and south of Houston and along its eastern boundaries.
The rain had abated Sunday in League City, where as much as 23 inches of rain had fallen in 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday, raising the waters of Clear Creek to historic levels and threatening the 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.
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 was deployed from Lake Athens Baptist Church in Athens, Texas, to help primarily with the laundry needs at the camp.
Knight said more units are prepared to deploy but are awaiting the all clear from officials letting them know roads are passable.
Clean up and recovery, water treatment, communications and chaplains units were deployed Monday to Rockport. Mass feeding and shower units and chaplains were en route to Corpus Christi and Rockport according to a statement from the SBTC Disaster Relief Ministry Monday afternoon. Rockport teams were advised that they must be self-sufficient since there is no water, power or telephone service in the hard-hit town that is presently under a curfew from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Mass care feeding, shower and water units are en route to Northwest Houston, and laundry, feeding, shower and water support units are deploying to Austin.
Additional units — bunk house, feeding, chaplains, clean up and recovery, shower, childcare, communications and water treatment — are on standby.
Knight said the SBTC’s field ministry strategists from the hardest-hit regions serve as the disaster relief ministry’s “eyes and ears” 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. Scores of people go through the required training to serve but often are not available when the call goes out for help he said. Some are among those in need of assistance.
“Thank goodness we have sister conventions that respond,” he said recalling the crews from other states that have come to Texas’ aid.
Trained volunteers will be needed for months Knight noted. While some non-SBTC responders get power and water activated and leave town once that work is done, “SBTC disaster relief stays there for the duration.”
“We’re telling folks realistically until Thanksgiving. That’s a conservative estimate,” Knight said.
Long-term needs will be money and people, he added. Volunteers must be trained for liability reasons, and training sessions will be forthcoming.
Donations of material supplies like water and clothing, while appreciated, are not always needed. Knight said financial donations made to the SBTC Disaster Relief Ministry will go directly to the areas of greatest need, which at this point is Harvey relief.
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.