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Presbyterians continue recovery effort in Houston following Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey

Damage assessment begins as floodwaters recede

By Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Louisiana National Guard members from the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team assist the Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission with the evacuation of a nursing home in Orange, Texas, on Aug. 30. (Louisiana National Guard photo)

LOUISVILLE – The high water from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey may be subsiding, but the long-term threat in Texas is far from over. In the Houston area, emergency crews are still going door-to-door looking for people who may still be in their homes. As the water recedes the threat of mold and contaminated water supplies from local chemical plants and refineries continues to complicate recovery efforts.

“The severity of damage depends on where you are. At least 18 congregations have had some type of water damage,” said Lynn Hargrove, stated clerk for the Presbytery of the New Covenant based in Houston. “One church had water shoulder-deep, about 5 to 6 feet, in their building. Others have had a foot or less. I have a dozen pastors who have been flooded out of their homes along with members of their churches.”

The presbytery includes the cities of Houston, Galveston, Port Arthur and Beaumont, among others.

“Mostly, we are trying to monitor who has damage and help members who have been flooded,” said Hargrove. “We have a number of congregations that are actively trying to help members and neighbors rip out carpet and sheetrock because the quicker we get to that, the less likely we have mold.”

Hargrove says communication with churches is key right now.

“We are checking with pastors, sometimes by text messaging, just to let them know they are being supported. We offer to help as we can,” she said. “I have folks who can’t get back into their houses so many don’t know what kind of help they will need. Right now, we are in an assessment phase.”

Members of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team are on the ground this weekend to help with the assessment and planning for long-term recovery. Hargrove says she’s been moved by the response the presbytery has received.

“The city of Houston is incredible in volunteerism. I’ve seen pictures of volunteers in long lines, waiting to get into shelters to help,” she said. “We are probably one of the most diverse cities in the country and it doesn’t matter what color you are, people are helping each other.”

Hargrove says volunteers will be needed once initial recovery and assessment are complete.

“The hotels are full of evacuees right now so there is no place for volunteers to stay. Congregations in the flooded areas have damage so we can’t send volunteers to stay in churches,” she said. “The volunteers need to be safe and if they are coming from out of town, what provisions do we make for them? We need to keep them safe. I don’t want to discourage anyone from coming, but it might be slightly early to do that. We will need help for quite a while.”

Hargrove says she’s received support from people and churches across the country offering assistance.

Meantime, the PDA National Response Team is on the ground with Mission Presbytery which includes San Antonio, Austin and Corpus Christi, among others.  Some communities are still without power and there have been several natural gas leaks. The team has found several churches with structural damage from the high winds and flooding.

The NRT visited the Port Aransas Community Presbyterian Church and estimate approximately $200,000 in damage as water rose up to 6 feet. The team says the church’s activity center is likely to be torn down. Taft First Presbyterian had begun a small remodeling project prior to the storm. A major stained glass window was destroyed, and there is structural damage as well. The team estimated nearly $500,000 in repair work needed for Refugio First Presbyterian Church because of high winds.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is the emergency response and refugee program of the denomination, committed to the long-term journey of recovery of communities adversely affected by a crisis or catastrophic event. It is funded by the One Great Hour of Sharing and raises designated funds for responding to specific disasters.

To support recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, click here. You’ll be taken to the PC(USA) website to donate securely and quickly.

If you prefer to mail a check (please write DR000169-Harvey on the memo line), you may send it to:

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700

You may also call 1-800-872-3283 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EDT), and donate by phone.

For resources to share with congregations on support efforts, click here.

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