Sept. 9-10 marked the beginning of the anticipated influx of Church volunteers to Houston from areas not affected by flooding. Hurricane Harvey, possibly the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history, had a large impact on much of the Texas Gulf Coast.
Harvey actually created two floods for many residents. The torrential rain inundated many homes with up to 50 inches falling in a three to four-day time span. Shortly after, the massive amounts of runoff flowing into area rivers and reservoirs caused even more damage as they overflowed their banks.
The Church structure, however, allows quick response on the part of local units. According to Elder J. Devn Cornish, a General Authority Seventy on the scene, “By the time headquarters could make contact with people, they were well into the process of ministering and rescuing and recovering.”
Over the weekend of Sept. 9-10, large scale recovery efforts organized by stakes in Austin and Dallas headed to Houston. Additionally, stakes from San Antonio went to Corpus Christi and others from Southern Louisiana traveled to the Beaumont area.
Approximately 1,300 volunteers came from 5 stakes in Austin and an additional 2,300 came from the Dallas area to work in Houston. These combined with the local Houston area members already engaged in clean-up work totaled approximately 10,000 Mormon Helping Hands volunteers in service in one weekend. Houston Church members have been working continuously to alleviate local needs since the flood took place.
The City of Houston is no stranger to the work of Mormon Helping Hands. In 2015, Church members rendered such valuable service to the community that then-mayor Annise Parker proclaimed June 24 as Mormon Helping Hands Day in the City of Houston.
Typically, out-of-town volunteers leave their homes early Saturday morning and upon arrival immediately go to work for the remainder of the day. They eat, sleep, have a brief sacrament meeting Sunday morning in their work clothes, go back to work and later in the afternoon return to their homes.
Ryan Robinson, president of the Cedar Park Texas Stake, noted that members of his stake had been looking forward to the opportunity to come and serve. President Robinson said, “In addition to serving, they’re listening and providing a sense of hope, a sense of energy and support for our brothers and sisters here in Houston.”
Round Rock Texas Stake President Chris Woodfield observed, “The stories just keep rolling in of individuals who had nowhere else to turn, and to be able to go and help them is really an opportunity for us to emulate the Savior.”
Over the weekend, four area high schools happily hosted the out-of-town Church volunteers, providing them a sheltered place to stay, shower facilities, a cafeteria to eat in and a clean space for the shortened sacrament meeting Sunday morning.
Hundreds of work parties of eight to ten members went to individual homes that needed to be cleaned or “mucked” out. Flood waters, often contaminated with impurities, deposit debris in homes and ruin everything they touch. Additionally, to halt the onset of mold, sheet rock on the walls plus insulation needs to be removed 2 feet above the high-water mark in each home. This process produces mountains of debris on streets in flooded areas. Often, discarded with the sheet rock and insulation are family heirlooms and irreplaceable personal mementos.
Houston homes don’t have basements, so Church work crews cleaned out the structure down to the bare floor and to the wall studs. This stopped the immediate decline of the home’s condition, allowed residents to safely remain in their homes and bought them time to hire remodelers to perform repairs. Some are damaged so badly that they can’t be repaired.
Large scale recovery efforts organized by stakes in the area will continue for some time. There is a sense of urgency to do as much remediation as soon as possible as the longer the homes remain in their flooded state, the lower the chances that they can be saved.
According to Tami Maloney, a Houston area public affairs director, “Homeowners expect to remediate for weeks but are relieved when our volunteers do it in a matter of hours.”
Another army of Mormon Helping Hands volunteers will arrive from Sept. 16-17 to continue the work of recovery.
Elder Cornish said, “The most remarkable thing has been the love and caring of the Latter-day Saints.”