Baptist and other faith-based organizations are descending on the Houston area following last week’s torrential rains and flooding.
And the biggest job confronting them, experts say, is determining who needs help and how to get it to them.
“We are still in the process of trying to figure that out – the whole city is trying to figure that out,” said Marla Bearden, disaster recovery specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Heavy rains that swept across southeast Texas deluged Houston and the surrounding region, killing at least seven people and flooding roads, highways, businesses and homes.
Government officials told disaster recovery agencies that at least 3,500 structures have been flooded, Bearden said.
As much as they still have to discover, disaster relief agencies already know from experience that the Houston flooding will require a long-term disaster response by agencies and their volunteers, she said.
To meet immediate and long-term needs, Texas Baptist Disaster Recovery and other agencies are already putting out a call for cash donations and volunteers.
Texas Baptist Men posted a call for help on its Facebook page. The ministry said it has mud-out teams already working in Orange and Newton counties, as well as in Katy and in Smithville.
“We expect to call out more teams as we continue to assess the situation, get requests from government officials and receive calls from local churches,” the TBM Facebook page said.
TBM also asked potential volunteers to resist the urge to show up in disaster areas without assignments.
“Church groups, please allow us to get the operation up and running in the numerous areas so we can best advise you how you can help,” TBM officials said.
On its website, Samaritan’s Purse announced its has teams fanning out across Houston.
“One of our disaster relief units — a tractor trailer stocked with needed equipment and supplies — has arrived and is up and running,” the international relief organization said. “More than 25 families have already requested help, and that number will only increase in the days ahead.”
Operation Blessing International said it has personnel working in the community of Brookshire to help victims of the torrential flooding.
In that city, the organization said online, “residents watched helplessly as two to four feet of water entered their houses. Many were rescued by boat as the flood waters continued to rise.”
Texas Baptist Disaster Relief also is focusing a large portion of its efforts outside Houston, Bearden said.
“In Houston there are already so many volunteer agencies mobilizing,” she said, referencing Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Blessing, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the ecumenical Greater Houston Storm Recovery Network.
Matt Johns, executive chairman of the network, said its individual agency members are now in high gear responding to the immediate needs of flood victims. But the network itself is preparing to get into full swing in its speciality: long-term disaster response.
“That can last a very long time,” said Johns, who works with Catholic Charities. “We just finished some work from (Hurricane) Ike, which was in 2008.”
With Houston in the hands of the network and other agencies, Bearden’s focus is on finding volunteers and financial resources for residents of Deweyville, a small town about 115 miles east of Houston on the Texas-Louisiana state line. The call has gone out for help for Calvary Baptist Church in Deweyville.
“The flooding was all the way up to the ceiling,” Bearden said, adding the church had no flood insurance.
“We need other churches to adopt them as they buy furniture and cabinets and plumbing fixtures – everything that was lost,” she said.
But whether it’s in Deweyville or Houston or elsewhere, churches from in and around Texas will be needed for the long haul, Bearden said.