Coastal communities came together in a crisis
Hurricane Harvey brought out the best in Coastal Texans. The acts of kindness, big and small, were too many to count. Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, about 200 miles south of Galveston County. But in the next 72 hours, the storm would dump more than 50 inches of rain in parts of Galveston County, swelling bayous and creeks and causing flooding in an estimated 20,000 homes in the county.
Here are just a few stories about the people in this community who stepped up in a crisis to help neighbors and strangers.
He refused to leave her
Sandra Jones was exhausted and alone.
When Dickinson Bayou left its banks during Hurricane Harvey, Jones had to leave her Dove Meadows home, which had filled with 3 feet of water. Her rescuer offered to drive her to a shelter, but they became separated in the crisis.
Jones wound up at a disaster donation distribution center at Mall of the Mainland. That’s where Texas City resident Jimmy Ray was unloading supplies and noticed Jones, who was visibly upset and sitting in a corner.
“She hadn’t eaten or taken her blood pressure medicine in three days,” Ray said.
He did his best to calm her and make her comfortable. He put up a blanket to give her some privacy and a bit of peace.
He brought her some oatmeal and even got her to eat a bite or two when an employee noticed Jones’ walker and the hanging blanket and insisted the place wasn’t meant to be a shelter.
Jones, 73, put down the barely touched oatmeal, took her few meager belongings and walked out the door. Ray went after Jones, who reminded him of his mother, he said.
“Quit following me,” she told him.
He refused. She was dizzy and sat down on the ground, but ants were crawling on her. Ray persuaded her to sit on a park bench, he said.
He sat with her on the bench for three hours.
They talked, and Ray learned Jones had suffered two heart attacks in the past, he said. She feared that if she went to a shelter, she would end up in Dallas with hundreds of other evacuees and no way to get home. He was worried she might have a stroke or heart attack.
The ambulance he called arrived and medics confirmed her blood pressure was high, Ray said.
The ambulance crew took her to the emergency room at the University of Texas Medical Branch League City campus, where she finally was allowed to finish her oatmeal. On the same day, Ray went to see how she was doing when a nurse said the hospital was releasing her.
But there was nowhere to go and it was 8 p.m.
Ray heard about a shelter at Victory Lakes Intermediate School in League City, near the hospital. So, he collected Jones, went to the pharmacy to fill her prescription and went to the school.
But that shelter had closed.
By that time, it was 9 p.m. and Ray wasn’t sure what to do next.
“We saw a couple walking their dog, and they told us about a shelter on Highway 96 at Hometown Heroes Park,” Ray said. “It was so organized. They had kiosks with computers for people to file insurance claims, separate areas for people to sleep and places to take hot showers.”
He went back to the shelter often to visit Jones and make sure she was OK. She hadn’t called her family for help because she didn’t want to burden anyone, Ray said. But she finally connected with a family member and left the shelter.
Ray works as an inspector for Dow Chemical in Texas City and also plays in a couple of bands — Texas Soulshine and Bare Necessity. He intends to stay in touch with Jones, he said.
“She is 73 and my mom is 74,” Ray said. “And then I found out they have the same birthday. I thought she reminded me of my mom. I even told her, ‘I wouldn’t let my mom sit here alone, and I’m sure not going to let you.’”
— Valerie Wells
‘Blessed to be a blessing’
After disasters, it seems to take a long time for people to get money from charities and fundraisers, Dickinson resident Mary Bass said.
Bass didn’t want her children’s teachers to have to wait.
“My kids are in Dickinson ISD,” Bass said. “I’m a chef here; I’ve lived here my whole life.”
She had the idea to raise $200 for her daughter’s teacher at Calder Road Elementary School. Then she thought about raising $200 for other teachers at the school. She reached out to her contacts and people started calling her.
“I raised $1,400 in three hours,” Bass said.
She moved on to Lobit Middle School and set a goal to get $200 each for 11 teachers at that school.
“I raised that $2,200,” she said.
She kept going, raising more than $4,800 for teachers to spend on any personal thing they needed after the storm and floods.
“Well, $200 isn’t a lot of money, but for them it’s a lot right now,” Bass said.
She didn’t stop raising money. Bass organized a fundraiser, selling barbecue sandwiches and sliced sausage. She recruited people to donate soft drinks, chips and buns. Her plan was to make 1,200 sandwiches and raise another $15,000.
She also wanted the community to come together and visit during the recovery.
Dickinson students had just began the school year when Hurricane Harvey arrived.
“They were in school for three days, then the storm hit,” Bass said. “I just want to have them come and give their teachers a hug.”
Her home in the Bay Colony neighborhood didn’t get flooded, but she lost a storage unit full of memories, scrapbooks and mementos.
“We’re blessed to be a blessing,” Bass said. “I’ll move on to another school. I’ll do it as long as I’m capable.”
— Valerie Wells
They had a plan
A few months ago, long before the storm, a group of Friendswood residents decided to create an organized plan to be of help in case of a disaster.
When Hurricane Harvey struck, group members put that plan into action.
The group, Friendswood Disaster Response, is made up of about 20 residents who devised a plan for where distribution centers would collect donations, where volunteers could register to help and where evacuees could get a hot meal.
“We were from churches,” Friendswood resident Moe Mays said.
Mays, who is an administrator at First Baptist Church Friendswood, was a firefighter and emergency medical technician for the city of Houston for 28 years. He also serves as a chaplain for the Friendswood Police Department.
And Mays has a lifetime worth of training in emergency response, through his career and through his church.
Mays doesn’t think the Friendswood Disaster Response was as organized as it might have appeared to outsiders, he said.
“This hit before we had all our ducks in a row,” Mays said.
The group created a baseline plan and list of resources and met on the fly. The plan called for three of its members to be in the city’s Emergency Operations Center when the creeks rose and flooded Friendswood neighborhoods.
Friendswood is a community where people watch out for each other, Mays said.
After the disaster, some people might need to talk to a counselor to help cope with the scope of what was lost, Mays said. He encourages people to find that help.
“Call your local church,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a member or not.”
— Valerie Wells
‘The outpouring of love’
Constable Derrick Rose usually is host of a Labor Day event for the community with his barbecue team, Bad Boyz BBQ. But with so many locals out of their homes and dealing with uprooted lives, it didn’t seem appropriate this year, he said.
The one thing that could be celebrated were the hard-working first responders and volunteers who had rescued thousands of people from flooded homes, he said.
Rose had watched on TV and heard from friends in law enforcement about the perilous rescues and horrors caused by Harvey in the community as neighborhoods were swamped by rising waters.
In a day’s notice, he put together an Aug. 31 barbecue outside of the Dickinson Police Department to show appreciation for first responders in the county.
He and his team stayed up the night before preparing barbecue to feed dozens of people at his house. He wanted to do something to show his appreciation for people who had gone above and beyond to help each other, he said.
“Texans help everybody,” Rose said. “I’m proud to be Texan when I see the outpouring of love everyone is showing.”
On a hot Thursday afternoon, police officers, members from the U.S. Army and Dickinson Fire Department all turned out to fill plates with beans, brisket, sausage and mashed potatoes.
Many were tired from the days on call and many had lost their own homes in the flooding, Dickinson police Sgt. Tim Cromie said.
“Half of our staff are victims of Harvey,” Cromie said. “It’s pretty devastating for the department as a family.”
Texas City Police Department Cpl. Neal Mora hadn’t been surprised by how tirelessly police, fire and other crews worked to save their neighbors, he said. From his years in law enforcement, he knew how his colleagues felt about protecting the community. But the rain brought by Harvey and the damaged it caused was devastating, he said.
“The whole thing created multiple levels of feelings,” Mora said. “It’s upsetting obviously, because it’s in your community, but you also get a sense of pride because people are coming together. We’re not waiting for help from outside.”
— Marissa Barnett