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Houstonians get their feet wet and hands dirty to help each other out

Erich Schlegel | GettyImages North America | AFP
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Churches open up to shelter people, neighbors start to clean out each other's houses in wake of Harvey.

Texans and sympathetic Americans continued to help survivors of Hurricane Harvey Wednesday, as the diminished but still very wet storm made its way eastward, inundating Port Arthur and threatening Louisiana.

Officials were keeping a wary eye on the Barker and Addicks reservoir dams as the Army Corps of Engineers continued a controlled release of water into Houston’s central Buffalo Bayou.

The bayou was now a “huge river, that thousands of homes are now flooded. In fact our neighborhood is extremely anxious at the rise,” said Bob Sumicek, one of the coordinators of a statewide Knights of Columbus emergency response team.

“Water from the Buffalo Bayou overflow is slowly backing up into our streets through the storm sewers,” said West Houston resident Sara Frear. “I’m keeping an eye on the situation and will head out if it continues to rise.”

Tito Edwards, a resident of Pearland, south of Houston, said that every day, he and his wife “put on our boots and ponchos and walk around the neighborhood, and everybody seems to be doing well.” Edwards, who blogs at the National Catholic Register, said he is very impressed with the atmosphere of neighbors helping one another and the numbers of people from places like West Texas, Kentucky, and Louisiana “coming in with their little dinghies and boats, helping people get rescued and take them to shelters. That’s something I didn’t see coming.”

He said that churches and other faith communities are opening their doors for people to take shelter, but that a lot are now overflowing.

“The most pressing issues are food, dry blankets, towels, fresh water,” said Edwards, who remembers eating military rations as a boy during a hurricane in 1981.

One of the churches serving as a shelter is St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Community, where Heather Martin serves as a night-shift hospitality team manager. The shelter comes under the aegis of the Red Cross and is hosting up to 350 people in its community center and religious education building. One room, supervised by the Knights of Columbus, is even sheltering people’s pets.

“We take care of all of the bedding, take all the linens and get them laundered, go around and make sure people are comfortable,” Martin said in an interview Wednesday. “Lots of people need help locating phone numbers or contacting family members because it’s amazing how many people had to evacuate without their cell phones.”

Martin added that an important part of the team’s work is to sit and listen to guests. “They want ot talk about what happened to them and what they’re going to do about it,” she said.

The parish served as a shelter during an earlier storm and has a lot of the resources, including cots and blankets, on hand. It also has a fully-staffed medical area, with a doctor, dentist and nurses. People who needed dialysis were even able to be served there.

Elsewhere, Joe McClane, who lives in Spring, said that his part of Houston is in “recovery mode.”

“There are volunteers here working in neighbors’ homes, trying to pull apart their walls, throw out wet carpet, and get in there and dry things out so mold doesn’t grow,” said McClane, station manager for the local Catholic Guadalupe Radio. “Dehumidifiers are going to be in great demand to dry out these houses. There’s millions of people affected.”

The nearby city of Port Arthur, east of Houston, isn’t at that stage yet. Reports coming from there on Thursday afternoon were saying the city was almost completely under water.

Juan Galvan, 29, had to evacuate from there with his two-month-old daughter the other day and heard from a relative that his neighborhood had five feet of water.

“My aunts and uncles had to be rescued from their home on a boat,” Galvan said from a Motel 6 in Nacogdoches, northeast of Houston. “They stayed and it flooded, so they couldn’t get out. One of my uncles was on the roof. The rest of them, the water was up to their waist. They could have got out walking, but they couldn’t see the street or nothing, so a boat had to pick them up.”

He said volunteers were “just driving a boat through the little street to see if someone needs to be rescued” and one stopped at their house.

In Nacogdoches, he and his relatives continue to see trucks with boats passing by on their way to Houston to help.

“I’m kind of anxious to see our house,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s not as bad as it seems. I’m hoping for the best.”

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