Hundreds of Officers, Soldiers and Volunteers Respond as Harvey, Irma Slam Southeast
With two back-to-back hurricanes threatening the continental United States – Harvey in Texas, and Irma bearing down on the Florida coast – The Salvation Army in the first weeks of September was deploying more personnel than to any other weather event in the organization’s history.
“God loves you, The Salvation Army loves you, and we will be here to help,” said General Andre Cox. The Salvation Army’s international leader assured survivors receiving food boxes and supplies during his Sept. 7-8 visit to Houston with Southern Territorial Commissioner Don Bell.
Harvey made landfall in Texas Friday, Aug. 25, as a Category 4 hurricane, 280 miles across and with winds of 130 mph. But it wrought its worst damage in subsequent days as a tropical storm that stalled over southeast Texas, dumping as much as 51 inches of rain.
At least 70 people died, and 30,000 residents were displaced by widespread flooding. Property losses were estimated at up to $75 billion as 33 Texas counties were declared federal disaster areas. About 450,000 storm victims were expected to ask FEMA for disaster assistance.
The Salvation Army deployed to Texas hundreds of officers, soldiers and volunteers. Every division of the Southern Territory was represented, as were the three other U.S. territories and the Canada-Bermuda Territory.
Lt. Colonels Ronnie and Sharon Raymer, divisional commanders of the Texas Division, were in Rockport, Texas, the day a thankful resident approached a crew setting up a mobile kitchen there. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I knew you would come.”
“We may have lost everything, but we didn’t lose life or hope,” Captain Frankco Higdon said at an open-air meeting in the basketball court outside the Port Arthur, Texas, Corps, where the chapel sustained significant water damage. “Our hope, our life, is founded on our risen Savior.”
General Cox and Commissioner Bell arrived in Houston on Sept. 7 to meet with The Salvation Army leadership team, visit with survivors and encourage officers, staff and volunteers involved in the response efforts.
The next morning, as teams prepared to depart for another busy day providing meals, clean-up kits and food boxes, General Cox talked with crews and thanked them for their faithful and tireless service. The General also saw a field kitchen staff in action as they prepared food for the day.
Six Incident Command Teams coordinated service delivery and assistance in Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Arlington, Houston and Victoria in Texas and in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Local response units served in Abilene, Freeport, Galveston, Killeen, New Braunfels, Orange, San Antonio, Temple and Wharton.
By the second week in September, the Army had more than 90 mobile feeding units (canteens) in the area capable of serving up to 1,500 meals a day. Among the Texas coastline communities served: Bell, Bexar, Calhoun, Comal, Galveston, Harris, Hays, Nueces, Orange, Refugio, Tarrant, Taylor and Victoria. Two field kitchens, with a 15,000-meal-a-day capacity, were in Harris County and Beaumont, and a laundry unit was in Freeport.
Local units operated emergency shelters for evacuees in Abilene, Angleton, Corsicana, Freeport, Galveston, Houston Harbor Light/Red Shield, Waco and Wilkerson. The Army also secured warehouses for emergency food and supplies in Corpus Christi, Victoria and Houston.
“The Salvation Army served victims after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Matthew, but we’ve never seen anything like this,” said Major Mark Woodcock of the Georgia Division. “We will be on the ground in Texas to help those impacted by the disaster as long as we’re needed.”
As of Sept. 7, The Salvation Army has served 311,955 meals, 255,522 snacks, and 321,093 drinks statewide in response to Hurricane Harvey. Officers providing emotional and spiritual care have spoken with 21,411 first responders and survivors; employees and volunteers have provided 42,938 hours of service.
But as the situation in Texas was moving from rescue to recovery, a new storm arose in the Atlantic – Hurricane Irma. The Army quickly redeployed assets to meet the new threat.
Property Manager Mike Lariviere and two volunteers from the Ocala, Florida, Corps arrived in Houston on Aug. 31; they and other mobile feeding crews from Florida and Georgia started getting word Sept. 5 to head back east.
“It hurts to leave Houston because there is so much that is needed and so much we still don’t know about what will happen with Irma. And it could be a lot more than just Florida impacted,” Lariviere said.