For a couple days last week, Hurricane Harvey and its flooding pushed Houston resident Nell Green nearly to despair.
Green and her husband Butch are field personnel with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, tasked with helping churches care for Muslim immigrants. As Harvey neared, Green said she began to notice the refugees she serves weren’t displaying a sense of urgency or preparing for the coming storm.
“Most of these folks have never seen this. They are from desert areas. Flooding is beyond them,” Green told Baptist News Global over the weekend.
So Green threw herself into helping them prepare. She provided shopping lists and cautioned them about high winds and flooding.
But once the storm hit, and when the rains continued and the flooding occurred, Green could no longer help — even when she got desperate text messages from frightened refugees.
“They watched the rising waters, dumbfounded.”
A family from Afghanistan — parents and five children from age 6 months to 20 years old — began to realize the rising threat. First, the 20-year-old daughter, who understands English, texted Green that their cars were taking on water. The texts then reported water approaching their front door. Then the flood was cresting their apartment’s balcony.
“I started trying to call 911 for them and was on hold for 30 to 40 minutes. Then I got a text: ‘Miss Nell: are we going to die?’”
They didn’t. The entire family managed to escape through a bathroom window, found help and were eventually placed temporarily with another family.
But the experience left Green, herself a prisoner of Harvey in her home, emotionally depleted.
“That feeling of getting a text that says ‘Miss Nell, are we going to die?’ What do you say? It was overwhelming.”
Recovery efforts commencing
Knowing that residents across the greater Houston region continue to be overwhelmed, a variety of faith-based organizations are on the way and arriving.
Mormon teams helped stranded residents during the height of the flooding and top Latter-day Saints leader Dieter F. Uchtdorf visited the area Sunday to boost the spirits of volunteers and victims.
Catholic Charities USA and Samaritan’s Purse, among others, are ramping up their efforts in the region, too.
Baptist groups around the country also are responding.
“Let’s hit the road,” Virginia Baptist Disaster Response declared on its Facebook page. “We are beginning to move teams and equipment into Liberty, Texas, as we stand up flood clean up operations alongside First Baptist Church Liberty.”
North Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief said it is preparing to send resources to join those already in place.
A tanker, shower unit and feeding team, along with food and three recovery teams “are on the ground in Nederland, Texas,” the organization said on its web site. “Approximately 125 volunteers are serving from our location.”
CBF officials said they will use South Main Baptist Church in Houston as the base of operations for recovery efforts. The Fellowship is partnering with CBF Texas, Fellowship Southwest and the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas.
The Fellowship said it has received dozens of inquiries from churches and individuals who want to help with Harvey recovery. It’s accepting those questions online.
Among those in the city who need significant help are refugees and other internationals.
“My initial assessment is that refugees and their areas of town appear to have come out for the most part on the good side,” Green said.
That’s become most live in apartments and many withstood Harvey’s wind and rain. And where there is damage, the property owners foot the bill for repairs.
But still, they are in trouble.
Many lost their cars to the flood waters, making it impossible to get to work. And for many others, their places of work have closed down. In Green’s community, a Walmart and Lowe’s were among the businesses that had to close, and they employed many refugees.
“They will need rent help and food money,” she said. “They have a lot on their plates and to be without work right now is catastrophic.”