By Ken Camp
Faith-based disaster relief agencies have enjoyed relative calm around the nation.
But that’s not true everywhere — and certainly not in Texas.
Faith-based groups, including Texas Baptists and Texas Baptist Men, are busy helping residents recover from recent wildfires and floods.
With chainsaws and skid-steer loaders, TBM volunteers have removed charred trees and debris from burned-out home sites in the Hidden Pines area in Bastrop County and sifted through ashes to help residents reclaim mementos that survived the blaze.
Meanwhile, other disaster relief workers with the group traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to shovel mud out of flooded homes in Weslaco, to Floresville to provide a portable shower unit to displaced people, and to San Marcos, Hondo and New Braunfels to assess needs in response to widespread flooding.
The Hidden Pines wildfire north and west of Smithville spread across more than 4,500 acres last month, destroying 66 homes, the Bastrop County emergency management office reported. In less than three weeks, TBM volunteers completed about 20 job requests from area residents.
When emergency management officials initially allowed residents to re-enter the burned-out area, TBM volunteers — including volunteer chaplains trained in critical incident stress management — were among the few outsiders granted access.
“It is a precious privilege for us to be allowed in,” said Henrietta Gentry, volunteer chaplain coordinator from First Baptist Church in Vidor, Texas. “We are present, just to let the people know we care about them.”
Some residents were reluctant to talk, but others were eager for someone to hear their story, she added. If they were open to conversation, chaplains let them know about the services TBM disaster relief volunteers could offer at no charge to them.
At first, she noted, some view any offers with suspicion, fearing scams. In time, however, some of the most skeptical disaster survivors become some of the most outspoken advocates for TBM’s disaster relief work, she said.
As he drove down dirt roads into secluded areas north of Smithville to monitor the quality of site-clearing operations, residents greeted Butch Moore, a TBM disaster relief volunteer from Second Baptist Church in LaGrange, Texas, as a welcomed friend.
‘A hammer and a handsaw’
Moore coordinated deployment of skid-steer loaders and their operators to job sites. First, heavy-equipment operators cleared metal from sites to give residents and volunteers a safe place to work. Next, TBM volunteers sifted ashes in areas residents identified as likely locations for jewelry or other valuables they might reclaim. Finally, the skid-steer operators cleared slabs and the surrounding area of debris to allow homeowners a clear site for rebuilding.
One former homeowner Moore met was living in a tent near his burned-out home site. The man told him he intended to rebuild on the same site.
“I asked him how he intended to do it, and he said, ‘I have a hammer and a handsaw,’” Moore recalled.
Once the local utility company restored electricity to the area and installed a pole with electrical outlets, Moore brought the man several power tools and a heavy-duty extension cord.
A TBM chainsaw crew and skid-steer loader operator from Harmony-Pittsburg Baptist Association cleared the site of a home belonging to a Bastrop County firefighter. The fires consumed his house while he was trying to contain the wildfire and save the homes of his neighbors, Moore noted.
Mud-out in Weslaco
Meanwhile, TBM deployed an incident-management team to facilitate a multi-faceted disaster relief operation in Weslaco, where floods filled about 1,000 homes with water ranging from one foot to four feet in depth.
Mud-out crews shoveled mud from homes, rip out soaked flooring and damaged drywall, and then power-washed and disinfected surfaces. Other volunteers distributed cardboard boxes and helped residents gather scattered possessions.
While TBM volunteers provide immediate relief to disaster victims, Texas Baptists’ Disaster Recovery office mobilizes volunteers for long-term recovery and rebuilding. Some families in Central Texas whose homes flooded during Memorial Day storms flooded again in recent days—particularly San Marcos and the surrounding area of Hays County and parts of nearby Caldwell County.
“Texas Baptists’ Disaster Recovery is working with long-term recovery efforts in Hays and Caldwell counties,” said Marla Bearden, disaster recovery specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “Our hope is to repair and/or rebuild up to 12 homes in these counties, working with the Blanco River Regional Long-term Recovery Committee.”
BOUNCE rebuilding projects
Bounce — the student branch of Texas Baptists’ Disaster Recovery — has rebuilding projects in San Marcos scheduled during spring break 2016.
“We are also beginning plans to repair homes in the Rio Grande Valley area that were affected by flooding over Memorial Day” and again in late October, Bearden added. “We are working with First Baptist Church in Weslaco, the Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association and the Hidalgo Faith Communities for Disaster Recovery.
Texas Baptists’ Disaster Recovery also is working with First Baptist Church in Del Rio to enlist volunteers to rebuild homes in Acuña, Mexico, hit by a tornado.
“Needless to say, it has been a busy year,” Bearden said. “We are soliciting funds to help us rebuild and repair homes. We work with the uninsured and the under-insured, as well as the elderly and disabled.”