Editor’s Note: Jim Truitt was invited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist in the formation of a Long Term Recovery Taskforce for Hurricane Harvey. Truitt, who serves our PNW Conference as the UMVIM Disaster Response Coordinator, had previous worked alongside FEMA during the Galena, AK recovery effort. He’ll be spending up to four weeks working out of Austin, Texas.
The following is Jim’s second update written for friends and family. You can find part one here.
Week number two is under my belt.
I spent this week working with three of the Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRGs) that will have to contend with the challenge of helping their communities recover. Unfortunately, disasters are nothing new to them. This area has had seven declared disasters in three years. This one is by far the worst. Whole towns, subdivisions and trailer parks were decimated.
In LaGrange, a trailer park of 165 trailers was completely demolished when the Colorado River rose 54 feet above flood stage. Mobile homes and double wides were tossed about like tinker toys. Fortunately, everyone was evacuated and no one was injured or killed. In Brazoria, another housing area was 100% flooded and over 300 families had to be evacuated.
The irony is this same area was flooded in 2016 and 150 families were still trying to recover from that flood. In both of these cases, the long term recovery group and the city emergency managers are investigating ways to relocate the families. Some of the ideas are really creative.
The rewarding part for me is their commitment to keeping the communities in tact and helping their residents reach their new normal. I’m really impressed with the level of dedication and commitment I see in the members of the long term recovery groups. They are determined to help their communities rebuild and overcome this disaster.
The communities are a little over a month into this recovery and, as you would expect, they are getting exhausted. We estimate that the total number of volunteers who have volunteered their time and talent to the clean up is now 60,189 and they have donated about 1,163,837 hours and that’s just the ones who have registered. However, there are still thousands of homes that need to be mucked out and debris cleaned up.
Very few communities are ready for rebuild. Some are still without power and some are still under water. There are over 60,000 people in motels and hotels from Texas to Washington because they have no place to go. FEMA and the State of Texas are working really hard to find a solution to this problem. They desperately want the help the people get out of the motels and hotels and get back to some sense of normalcy.
The exciting part for me is watching the LTRGs come up with creative ways to help relocate people from flood areas and still focus on keeping a sense of community. I met a Methodist pastor in Brazoria, J. Paul Bruhn, who is probably the most charismatic and creative individual I’ve met in a long time. His dedication to his community is infectious. I’d love to clone him.
We will continue to visit LTRGs next week. I think we will probably head toward the Beaumont/Port Arthur area where the flooding was the worst.
Please keep these people and those trying to help them in your prayers. This is going to be a long, long recovery. Conservative estimates say it will take at least 8 – 10 years.
Our conference and local churches are blessed by leaders like Jim who are willing to learn and serve as God gives them opportunity. Be sure to check out some of the upcoming training opportunities if you are available to volunteer your sweat equity toward efforts to respond to natural disasters in our conference and beyond.
If you want to help United Methodist Early Response Teams (ERT) get to and from Texas, you can contribute to the Conference Advance #353 through your church or send a check to the Conference Treasurer at PO Box 13650, Des Moines, WA 98198. Put Advance #353 on the memo line.
To financially support relief and recovery efforts in U.S. states and territories, give to U.S. Disaster Response Advance #901670. To give to non-U.S. territories in the Caribbean, and to empower other efforts around the globe, please donate to International Disaster Response Advance #982450.