September 25th, 2019
Lessons Learned as a Hurricane Harvey Volunteer
I was a crew chief for a crew of volunteers headed to Houston to help clean up and rescue flood-damaged homes and property in the weeks after Hurricane Harvey. The initial wait for the go-ahead to go into the area was surprisingly hard for us as a crew. We were full of desire to help and the hope that we could be of maximum help made waiting the extra week extremely hard. In reality, the wait was quite necessary as many of the flood areas presented safety risks and available rescue personnel would have been overwhelmed had everyone that wants to go in to help been allowed in. We knew several crews that traveled to the area only to be turned away by authorities. They asked that all volunteers, everyone not qualified as rescue personnel, wait. And so, we waited.
The day we were allowed to go into Houston was a day I will never forget. I had previously never been to Houston, and today it’s hardly the place I first saw, but I at once felt like I was in a war zone and on another planet. Streets were lined with damaged goods and property that had been rendered junk by the flood. Most streets were piled eight to ten feet high. It felt like driving over the summit of the Rockies when the snowbank is several feet higher than the roof of my truck.
The neighborhood we entered for our first job was teeming with rescue workers and I was amazed I could even get my truck down the street let alone find a place to park and unload. The home we were mucking out had taken on several feet of water in the ground floor. The woman’s brand-new Mercedes had taken on so much water sitting in the garage that the insurance company had already declared it a total loss. She had no flood insurance on her house.
Working Against the Clock
Because of the extra week or so of waiting, there was little time to save the house itself from being a total loss due to risk of mold infestation which can set in in a hurry when the warm summer weather mixes with moisture from a flood inside a house with no air conditioning or power. Our crew set to work and within a few hours we removed all the wet materials and cabinets, sheetrock and flooring from her house and it was finally able to start to dry out. By the end of the day, it was clear the remaining structure of the home would be salvageable.
Over the next three weeks, I repeated this process each Saturday and Sunday. Each day was a new family and home to be served, and I think every home we worked in was able to be salvaged. Through it all, the experience of restoration professionals no doubt was key to recovery efforts. One great Emergency Restoration company I know, Rainbow Intl Restoration of Redmond, OR has helped hundreds of families recover from all kinds of disastrous loss. If you are in Central Oregon and need their services, they come highly recommended.