By Elizabeth Morse
Red Cross caseworkers gather early in the morning to receive their assignments. After studying GIS maps depicting neighborhoods with major flood damage, they replenish supplies and coordinate contact numbers before grabbing enough water to get them through a sweltering day. The heat index is predicted to reach 107.
Once the caseworkers leave the office, they will be out in the Texas sun until dusk. On this day, the emphasis is on working with clients in Brazoria County in southeast Texas. This is the first day after unprecedented flooding began in early June that roads into the hardest-hit areas have become passable.
“What we do is the heart of the Red Cross,” team leader Justin Nolan, from Georgia, remarks. The day before, he had worked with a man who lost everything in the flood. “He hadn’t eaten in two days. We gave him a tarp. We helped him buy food. He was so grateful that he cried. I told him, ‘We’re here to help you.’”
The team will be going door-to-door along county roads near Angleton in Brazoria County. The goal is to meet immediate needs for food, clothing, and shelter arising from the flood, but the team will also provide valuable information about other issues which will need to be addressed.
Nolan and Tara Lund, from Illinois, worked together earlier in the week. They have a good rhythm as a team. Nolan chats with the clients while Lund captures pertinent information. These steps allow them to determine whether immediate assistance is appropriate. Pointing to a knapsack full of materials, a smart phone, and a laptop, Nolan adds, “We can do everything right here.”
On the drive to the work site, Nolan and Lund relay what they saw the day before. “After the last flooding, one family raised their mobile home 10 feet above the ground. The flood waters rose so high that they still had two feet of water in their home. It was destroyed,” Nolan says.
We arrive in the hard-hit Holiday Lakes area and start knocking on doors, few of which are opened. We are the only people out in the heat, though those who drive by stop to talk when they see our Red Cross vests. No one we meet experienced home flooding, but they all know people who lost everything. We collect addresses to cross-reference to our lists. Fliers are taped on doors, fences, the Village Hall, and churches to ensure people know how to seek Red Cross assistance.
We move on to County Road 30. Twice we are told about animals that were stranded by the floods. When we reach the property, we find a menagerie of hungry animals: dozens of horses, dogs, pigs, cows, roosters, and cats. Riding with us is nurse Richard Wing of Washington State. Wing tries to give water to some of the emaciated puppies, but they won’t drink. Lund calls 911. Soon animal control arrives. They tell us that the owners have been contacted and are concerned. They weren’t able to return to feed the animals after the waters rose. The officers assure us that they have everything necessary to care for the animals.
We round a corner and find a house still surrounded by water. We can see someone at the house, but the water is above our knees. We’re not anxious to wade in the water so Wing tapes a flier on a bale of hay near what had been the entrance to the property.
By afternoon, we are on County Road 671. We speak to one homeowner who tells us, “I’m 65 years old and it’s never flooded here. Back in ’92 the house across the street had water up to the door…but not us. The water came up Friday a week ago. All afternoon we watched the pond [near the house] rise as the Brazos River rose. It was creeping up, then came faster. At 10:30 pm, I looked and said, ‘We need to get out!’ My brother stayed [at the property next door]. He said the water was waist deep.”
Wing questions everyone carefully, warning them not to use their well water until they have it tested. He adds, “Talk to your doctor about getting a tetanus shot if you walked in the water. Be very careful if you cut yourself.”
In the late afternoon, we reach the final homes that had significant flooding on a stretch of County Road 32. For one family, the flood was just the latest disaster in a year of disasters featuring lost employment and major health issues. We marvel at their spirit; it isn’t just that they say the right words, but they show it in their actions: They’ve already registered with FEMA; all the damaged wallboard and flooring have been removed. Right now this family of four is crowded into a small travel trailer, but it strikes us that they have the resilience to get through this latest blow.
Our final stop brings us to another long-time resident. “I never seen anything like it,” he tells us. “I thought I would be safe,” he continues, informing us that sometime in the past, his home had been raised ten inches above the ground. Within a few hours, the water around his dwelling was 13 ½ inches deep. “Then there was a 36 inch wave from an Army truck that drove by. Everything hit at once. My house was nearly washed off its foundation. I’m self-employed and I lost everything in my shop.”
There are long stretches of silence on the drive back to Red Cross Headquarters. We’ve seen so much destruction and heard so many tales. But when we start tallying the numbers, we realize that we have helped many people. It isn’t just the direct assistance we gave to those who qualified. It’s the knowledge we provided that people from all over the country care about what happened here and want to help.