How Tropical Storm Imelda is impacting Latter-day Saints and what 2,000 volunteers are doing to help

In what some are calling the worst storm to hit the state of Texas since Hurricane Harvey slammed into the southeast coast of the state in 2017, hundreds of homes in Houston and surrounding areas were flooded last week and over the weekend by Tropical Storm Imelda, with five deaths reported as linked to the storm.

With wind speeds as high as 40 miles per hour, the storm brought more than 40 inches of rain within a 24-hour period and caused record-breaking floods as it made landfall near Freeport, Texas, on Thursday, Sept. 19.

Visiting members in affected areas over the weekend, Elder Sean Douglas, an Area Seventy, said of nine of the 22 stakes in the southeast Texas region were affected by the storm. The Orange Texas and Beaumont Texas stakes were the two hardest hit by the storm, he said. But after visiting with members in each, Elder Douglas noted how impressed he was by the resilience of the people in the aftermath of the storm. 

Many of the people whose homes were flooded had only recently been able to move back into their homes following renovations from damage done by Hurricane Harvey just two years ago. 

Homes in the greater Houston, Texas area are flooded in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Imelda, which made landfall on Sept. 19, 2019.
Homes in the greater Houston, Texas area are flooded in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Imelda, which made landfall on Sept. 19, 2019. Credit: Sterling Pack

“These are people that have weathered many storms, and they continue to love the community that they are a part of,” he said. “Their heritage is rich, and that’s a beautiful thing to see.”

Although he wasn’t there to personally witness the efforts of community members during the storm itself, Elder Douglas said the beautiful stories he heard over the weekend entailed many people venturing out to help rescue their neighbors from flooding homes during the storm. And the same held true throughout the weekend as relief efforts continued following the aftermath of the storm.

The flooding caused by Imelda came so fast that many areas which were prevented from flooding during Harvey were flooded in this storm as the water escape routes couldn’t handle the rapid rainfall, Elder Douglas explained. 

With major highways — including the I-10 bridge over the San Jacinto River near Houston — being blocked off throughout the weekend, Elder Douglas said that getting aid to the people affected was not an easy task as alternative routes had to be taken to reach the people. But volunteers — including Church members, first responders and general community members — showed great commitment to serving their neighbors. 

“I was impressed by just the resilience of the Saints here,” Elder Douglas said. “There was no lack of volunteers. We had an overabundance of people hungry to serve. To me, it was a perfect example of faith and service. These Saints have shown a tremendous heritage of resilience and community service.”

Radar weather map shows where along the gulf coast Tropical Storm Imelda hit.
Radar weather map shows where along the gulf coast Tropical Storm Imelda hit. Credit: National Weather Service

In just the first weekend following the storm, 2,000 volunteers from the Church community showed up to help and together put in some 14,000 hours of service removing furniture and cleaning up nearly 250 homes affected by the damage, Elder Douglas said. 

“It’s impressive to see the way this community, and especially our Church organization, just so quickly organizes and how quickly it can respond in such an effective and efficient way,” he said. “It’s a remarkable testimony to me of this remarkable Church organization we belong to.”

He noted, too, that it has been beautiful to see the varying ways people have reached out to serve one another. Many families and even local business and corporations have extended support to those displaced from their flooded homes, offering places to stay among family, friends, neighbors and general communities.

Additionally, Elder Douglas shared the blessing of the Church’s immediate and ongoing efforts to get water and other supplies to the areas in need. It follows a pattern of service that has helped establish positive relationships between the Church and government and community leaders and organizations in the area in a series of disasters over the years, he said. 

Church members and volunteers wearing Helping Hands t-shirts and vests help to clean up homes in the greater Houston, Texas area with flood damage from Tropical Storm Imelda, which made landfall on Sept. 19, 2019.
Church members and volunteers wearing Helping Hands t-shirts and vests help to clean up homes in the greater Houston, Texas area with flood damage from Tropical Storm Imelda, which made landfall on Sept. 19, 2019. Credit: Sterling Pack

“I feel that our relationship with the county and the civic leaders, the community leaders has been remarkable,” he said. “And as we look at how we go about serving and helping, we try to be in alignment, and we’re involved with them in terms of coordinating and assessing. So there’s just been a good relationship with community leaders in this whole effort.”

In some areas, the water has not receded yet, Elder Douglas said, with work still to be done and clean up and relief efforts continuing over the coming weeks.