This week has been all about Hurricane Harvey. Devastation from the hurricane winds and record rainfall in Southeast Texas is beyond description. Watching the Weather Channel and other news, I am very sad to see people with their homes under water as they are rescued by boats or helicopters. Their homes will never be the same. As I write this Thursday morning, thousands are in shelters with nearly 50,000 homes destroyed.
In the midst of this suffering it has been heart-warming to see people step up to help victims in this catastrophe. People are helping their neighbors.
In the United Church of God, we are doing our part. I have been in contact with pastor Gary Smith in Houston, as well as elder Mark Sappington by phone and e-mail. I have also been in contact with pastor Tom Kuver and wife Pam in Corpus Christi. Our pastors are still assessing the damage that's taken place.
Through Good Works, the United Church of God is committed to helping both our members and others. On Tuesday morning, I met with our Good Works committee to discuss a strategy to provide the most effective support for victims.
At this time, the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the U.S. military are first-responders. I applaud their work. Shelters have been opened for the displaced. Food has been provided on a large scale from around the country through agencies that specialize in this phase of helping. Also, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and insurance companies are on the scene.
One of our attendees in Arkansas is driving a truck full of bottled water to the distressed area. Our brethren in East Texas are offering to house anyone needing to evacuate. Some of our brethren have already evacuated and are staying with relatives.
Good Works will help most effectively during the rebuilding phase of this disaster. We will help those people who have lost livestock and suffered severe property damage, fallen trees and the like. There will be considerable work to be done for months—long after news about Harvey is out of the headlines.
If you would like to help out, you can contribute to the Good Works U.S. Disaster Assistance Fund. You can contribute online at https://www.ucg.org/members/service-projects/us-disaster-assistance. If contributing by mail to Good Works, please specify HARVEY DISASTER RELIEF. The first contribution to Harvey disaster relief came from Zambia, as our pastor Derrick Pringle told us to redirect the monthly operating subsidy we give the Copperbelt churches to Harvey Relief.
Contributions that have been sent to LifeNets will be combined with Good Works in a cooperative effort to help people get back on their feet.
I would like to share a few reports from pastors:
From Gary Smith, pastor, Houston, August 31, 2017:
The Hurricane Harvey experience has been a gut-wrenching catastrophe for Liz and me personally, as well as for the members here in Houston.
Right now all the members are OK and they have been able to get out and get supplies. Things in several parts of the city are getting back to normal. We live southwest of Houston and things are improving.
In the Houston area, there are still communities worried about the levees that run along the Brazos River holding. The hope is that the crest of the river will be less than expected and the threatened communities should be OK.
Additionally, there are many homes that lie along the path of water that is being released from a couple of reservoirs. There is a fear that the reservoirs may not hold, so they are hoping the release will better the situation. Sadly, releasing the water is going to cause flooding. I don't believe any members are in jeopardy from this at this time.
The church hall in Humble, Texas, is dry. The water got up to a point near the door, and then began to recede. We lost a couple of ceiling tiles to a little bit of roof leakage, but we were considering how to address these issues with roof repair when the storm hit. Thankfully, we can make roof repairs as things are drying out.
We had a few members who were flooded, and they are already in the process of cleaning up. In one case, repairs are being undertaken by the community. Neighbors are working on one house and then going on to the next. One member has learned of a church group that is willing to come in and help clean out drywall, carpeting, and flooring that has been damaged. A final member flooded out has already removed damaged carpet, flooring and furniture. They have someone from East Texas lined up to do repairs.
A final member who was forced to leave their home will have to wait until the Brazos River recedes before they can get back in to their property. It will be some time until the river gets down so they can get in.
The amazing thing in Houston has been the outgoing concern that neighbors have had. They have gone out to rescue those trapped, volunteer at the shelters, provide food, water, blankets, pillows and clothes. It has been amazing to see people help their neighbors. More of this type of community service is going to be crucial to Houston's recovery.
The brethren here appreciate your prayers. They are in good shape as far as water, food and the basics. Now they must go through process of repairs and making their homes livable once again. Thankfully, only a handful of brethren were impacted.
Please pray for that the repairs and restoration efforts will go well.
From Mark Sappington, elder, Houston, August 30, 2017:
Greetings from water soaked and flooded Houston. Between 30 inches and 50 inches of rainfall fell in the Houston area between Saturday morning and Monday night. As shown on the news, there is widespread massive flooding of hundreds of square miles of the Houston area. Tens of thousands are in shelters which have been set up around the city.
To our knowledge, only three members have had water in their homes. One member had two inches of water in his house. We are still trying to contact one member. Another member has a ranch. She and her family evacuated late last week due to rising water in the rivers to the west of Houston. They had to leave behind their cattle, so they most likely have lost all of their livestock to the flood.
I drove to the Church Hall this morning and found that the building suffered no flooding damage. From the high water mark in the debris, the water rose up to within just two inches of flooding the building. The flood waters of Cypress Creek are receding, and this morning the water level is about 3 to 4 feet below the building slab elevation. God has been gracious to us! We expect to have Sabbath Services there this Sabbath.
The Houston area has over 6,000,000 residents. Over 200,000 residents live behind a levee along the Brazos River. The Brazos River is expected to crest above the top elevation of the levee tomorrow or Friday. If it does, 200,000 more people will suddenly be flooded in a situation very much like New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina. One family in the Houston congregation would be affected by this.
More flooding is anticipated in the central parts of Houston, because the two large reservoirs in the west side of Houston are full, and the Corps of Engineers is releasing massive flows from the reservoir, which will most likely flood hundreds of homes downstream for about 12 miles, all the way to downtown. Houston is not "out of the woods" yet, and it is being announced that it may take two years to fully recover from the flooding.
Please pray for the continued safety and well-being of the brethren here and for relief of the widespread suffering of the millions of residents in the region.
From Tom Kuver, pastor, Corpus Christi:
Here is synopsis of damage to the Corpus Christi brethren. No brethren were harmed physically and all are well. Three homes had damage due to falling trees. FEMA is helping one and insurance is helping another. Friends helped the third. Port LaVaca wind damage blew off siding and roofing to one member's home.
In Victoria, a shut-in widow had fences and several trees blown down. Members were there to help in cleanup. We have one family not yet returned to their home to assess damage and they are close to Rockport where the highest damage was reported.
Many Church members are wondering how they can best help their brethren and others who have been affected by the disastrous flooding and damage caused in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf Coast region.
The Good Works program of the United Church of God has had a standing disaster assistance fund expressly reserved for situations such as this. Members can immediately begin sending in donations at www.ucg.org/members/service-projects/us-disaster-assistance. Please mark any mailed donations as HARVEY DISASTER RELIEF.
You can also keep track of any updates to the situation by reading our running blog at www.ucg.org/members/news/update-on-hurricane-harvey.
We'll be working with pastors of churches in the affected areas to determine how to best serve our brethren and others in the short and long-term period of this catastrophe. We are still assessing the effect of this ongoing storm. We will give you more information as we communicate with those on the ground.
Thank you so much for your support and for your ceaseless prayers for God's deliverance at this time.