After flood, a shower of love

Texans help neighbors recover from Hurricane Harvey's destruction

Aug 28, 2017 by and

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In the weeks after Hurricane Harvey, Mennonites in southeast Texas are finding ways to help their neighbors and multiply an outpouring of support from across the country.

Church building damage ranges from internal water and roof damage at Corpus Christi’s Prince of Peace Mennonite Church, which lacks insurance, to no impact at Houston Mennonite Church. Just about every congregation has at least one member dealing with flooding at their home.

Mennonite Disaster Service’s Arkansas Search and Rescue Unit assists people trapped in homes by flooding in Fort Arthur, Texas. — Mennonite Disaster Service

Mennonite Disaster Service’s Arkansas Search and Rescue Unit assists people trapped in homes by flooding in Fort Arthur, Texas. — Mennonite Disaster Service

A Mennonite Disaster Service assessment team arrived Aug. 30 in Texas to explore early response needs through Sept. 3, visiting communities such as Rockport, Bloomington, La Grange, Victoria and Houston.

“As we made our way from Austin south to the coast, it clearly became evident that a huge hurricane with wind and water left an impressive path,” MDS executive director Kevin King said Sept. 5. “It reminded me of Hurricane Katrina.”

The team spent much of its time in relatively overlooked farming communities where only 15 to 20 percent of survivors have flood insurance.

On Sept. 2 volunteer crews were beginning to clear debris in Bloomington and Aransas Pass, tapping into a spirit of resiliency. In La Grange, King spoke with families waiting to return to mobile homes that had been completely submerged, some flipped upside down.

To stand by commitments to its current projects elsewhere, MDS is seeking $900,000 to support additional volunteers by constructing two new shower trailers, a kitchen trailer, and purchase trucks and vans.

“We’re already committed to seven locations this fall in the U.S. and Canada. We weren’t prepared for a situation of the level of Katrina,” King said of the 2004 response that lasted seven years.

MDS had received online volunteer inquiries from more than 200 individuals by Sept. 5. King anticipated some might end up getting assigned to Florida as even more powerful Hurricane Irma advanced through the Caribbean.

“It’s an extraordinary number of people who have signed up to say ‘We’ll help our neighbor,’ ” King said.

Mennonite Central Committee encourages hurricane donations be directed to MDS. Western District Conference donations made online and by mail are being distributed directly to WDC congregations in the Houston area, to assist them help members and neighbors in their communities.

Houston response

Dumping more than 50 inches of rain, the storm flooded much of Houston’s expansive area. Houston Mennonite Church Pastor Marty Troyer said Mennonites are scattered across the sprawling city, and most avoided significant damage.

“There are neighborhoods just getting into their homes,” he said on Sept. 5. “On the other hand, there are people like me whose homes weren’t affected. . . . If you would parachute into any two-mile radius in Houston, you would find streets just piled with trash on the curbs — rich and poor, it doesn’t matter.”

He said his congregation was working to find a balance between responding together as large groups or empowering individuals to help their neighbors.

“We try to find a balance,” he said. “Even the housebound want to find something they can do.”

Out of a dozen families in the congregation who experienced water damage, only two were significantly impacted. The church’s building was unscathed and held its first worship service since the storm Sept. 3.

“It was really powerful; people showed up tired and exhausted,” Troyer said. “. . . I know we left with more energy, being in the same room with people who care for each other. It touched what we needed as a group, spiritually and emotionally.”

Troyer was in communication with pastors of other Houston Mennonite congregations to coordinate responses.

“It’s good we already had relationships,” he said. “You can build things faster when you have relationships.”

Troyer said fellow Western District congregation Chin Emmanuel Church members were mainly impacted by being stuck in houses by floodwaters for days on end. One family’s home had 3 to 4 feet of water for six days and faced a lengthy cleanup.

Chin Emmanuel Church members float supplies to the house of a fellow member Sept. 4 in Houston. A week after the flood, it was the first day they had access to the home, which had 3 to 4 feet of water inside. — Simon Tlumang/Chin Emmanuel Church

Chin Emmanuel Church members float supplies to the house of a fellow member Sept. 4 in Houston. A week after the flood, it was the first day they had access to the home, which had 3 to 4 feet of water inside. — Simon Tlumang/Chin Emmanuel Church

Helping neighbors

In the Houston suburb of Pas­adena, Iglesia Menonita Casa del Alfarero (Potter’s House Mennonite Church) hadn’t been affected by flooding when Pastor Alberto Ronald Parchmont checked on Aug. 27. The church’s 40 members live mostly in one area.

Parchmont’s daughter, Claudia Sanchez, said most of those members did not get flooded, but people were able to help neighbors.

The Parchmonts live in a two-story house that took on about a foot and a half of water on the main floor. They went upstairs when the waters began to rise and were soon joined by two sets of neighbors — both with infants less than a year old.

“They came in the middle of the night soaking wet, and I was very glad to be able to help,” said Sanchez, who noted people living only five minutes away from her had water up to the roofs of their homes.

In Corpus Christi, only 30 miles from where the hurricane came ashore at Rockport, Prince of Peace Mennonite Church experienced significant water damage.

Pastor Felipe Almodovar’s daughter, church secretary Raquel Almodovar, said trees were uprooted, shingles blown away and water damaged much of the interior. Even the asphalt parking lot has large holes that weren’t present before the hurricane.

“We’re a small congregation. We could no longer afford insurance payments of $300 a month,” she said. “We have no insurance at all. It’s going to be a big project. I can’t even begin to figure out how much it’s going to cost.”

All of the church’s 40-50 attendees have been accounted for, and Almodovar said damage to other homes was limited to fences and uprooted trees.

MDS visited the congregation Aug. 31. Almodovar said MDS was able to arrange for metal roof supplies to come from Ohio on Labor Day, and volunteers were expected to begin working on the roof the following weekend. South Central Mennonite Conference’s Unidad Cristiana de Iglesias Menonitas (Union of Christian Mennonite Churches) of South Texas contributed $2,000 for repairs, along with $1,000 from other area Mennonite churches to fix the ceiling.

“The outpouring of love and the willingness to help is truly an amazing example of God’s love, grace and mercy upon our lives during our darkest of times,” she said.

A sinkhole appeared in Pastor Felipe Almodovar’s front yard. Utility workers theorize winds damaged a fire hydrant, causing a water main to burst underground. Workers drained water from the hole so it could be stabilized by filling it with multiple truckloads of sand.

In Houston, Troyer said his congregation had been in conversation with MDS and had received an outpouring of support from Mennonites across the country.

“We’re raising tens of thousands of dollars to help undocumented people around the city,” he said, citing examples of assistance like purchasing a wheelchair for a paralyzed neighbor who lost his in flooding.

“There’s not really any limit to what our capacity is working with the other Mennonite churches in town,” Troyer said.

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