Cadre of Churches Respond to Victims of Historic Texas Floods

Date Posted: 4/14/2016

Extensive rainfall requires extensive repairs, responses and reassurances. Congregations and volunteers have rallied from near and far to provide much needed assistance.
 
The story of Noah may take on a whole new meaning to the thousands of people experiencing the 2016 floods in Southeast, Central and North Texas. Residents across Texas have recently been reminded that mass quantities of water can create dramatic circumstances and a sense of chaos in just a matter of hours. According to Rev. Joe Miller in Newton almost 4,000 homes were destroyed and beyond repair, including 2,554 in Orange County and 1,239 in Newton County. “I am reporting these numbers so that people who do not live within the affected area can realize
the extent of the damage and the number of people who have lost everything,” he says. In addition to personal homes, FUMC, Deweyville experienced flood damage and Salem UMC, Orange was mildly impacted.
 
In the aftermath of the spring downpours, The UMC “Bucket Brigade” including dozens of volunteers and multiple United Methodist churches have eagerly come to the aid of impacted families and in support of regional responders.  “In the initial weeks,” explains Executive Director, Mission Depot Rev. Scott Moore, “we deployed Early Response Teams and other volunteers from UM churches in Conroe, Vidor, and Woodville to muck out homes in Old Salem and Deweyville, as well as to assist with relief efforts for FUMC Deweyville.”
 
Caddo Lake and Sabine River Relief
Torrential rain caused Toledo Bend Reservoir to reach capacity, so the floodgates had to be opened to full capacity to avoid a breach in the dam. “The resulting release flooded a wide swath of the Sabine River Flood Plain and created a disaster in Louisiana and Texas,” notes Rev. Jeff Stull, FUMC, Buna.  He is leading the effort at FUMC, Buna to house Americorps volunteers who are working the Multi-Agency Resource Center for Jasper and Newton Counties.
 
Sissy Crysup, a member of the FUMC, Rusk Early Response Team, shares that over 750 homes were impacted in that area. The lake is located in the northeastern part of Texas and stretches into the northwestern part of Louisiana. Significant rainfall caused Caddo Lake to reach levels not seen in half a century.  Some lakeside businesses and homes were invaded by as much as five feet of water. Notes Sissy, “FUMC Rusk's Early Responder Team was the first ERT in the Northwest District of the Texas Annual Conference to form and go on assignment.”
 
The Texas Annual Conference Committee on Relief (TACCOR) of the United Methodist Church sends only the trained Early Response Teams to devastated areas to tarp roofs, remove trees from homes, and clean out damaged homes. TACCOR, and Caddo Lake Relief, the Rusk team immediately began by helping at a two-unit cabin that had received as much as a foot of water inside, even though the structure stood over five feet above the ground. With supplies provided by the owner, team members repaired part of a pier/walkway and replaced insulation and sheetrock inside the two units.
 
Since the team's organization in 2014, it has served three-day deployments for tornado relief in Shawnee, Oklahoma (2014), Van, Texas (2015), and Rowlett, Texas (2016) and can now add Caddo Lake to the list. The majority of the team is trained and certified by TACCOR, which makes its members eligible for badges that are recognized by local authorities for early admission to disaster areas. Other team members consist of church volunteers who have passed background checks. The team is also assisted by the entire congregation with encouragement, prayers, financial support, and preparation of food for deployments.
 
As Jeff explains, “The State of Texas sent Emergency Managers toward the Louisiana border to locate Incident Command Centers in Deweyville, Bon Wier and Orange, Texas.” FEMA and Americorps (along with Red Cross and Salvation Army) deployed to the region and set up operations at Deweyville High School. “Deweyville was all but wiped off the map,” he notes. “Its infrastructure was destroyed, 80% of its citizens were displaced, and 60% of the school systems’ children were flooded out of their homes. Entire communities along the river were devastated or washed away. “
 
Thankfully, faith-based communities all along the river and inland deployed teams of volunteers to answer the call for help and assistance.  Americorps, comprised of young adults ages 18-24,  set up Volunteer Reception Centers at Deweyville H.S. and Bon Weir Baptist Church.
 
Chaplains are also in high demand due to the widespread upheaval to ordinary life. Chaplains from Victim Relief of Dallas and areas around Texas have been deployed with the Americorps teams to help with debriefing of teams and to provide spiritual help and support. Adds Jeff, “Tons of supplies like water, food, flood buckets and blankets have been brought in to help the response. Faith communities including Southern Baptists, United Methodists, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Church of Christ, United Pentecostals, and Assembly of God are working in collaboration to care of their neighbors.  “They are working together,” adds Jeff, “side by side, to help alleviate the damage, not just to property but to the lives of those devastated by this event.”
 
Lingering Needs
Financial aid is the greatest need as the recovery phase of this flood is underway. Notes Jeff, “Many residents will not return, many are sitting and wondering what to do, but most of the people are resilient and independent and determined, and taking matters into their own hands and moving forward. As they do, those of us who can must reach out to them to help them reclaim their lives.” Experts have not seen a flood this extreme along the Sabine River in the last 40 years. He issues this challenge, “As you look at these pictures, decide your involvement. Rise up, church! Be the hands and feet and heart of Christ in these times to those who need our help most.”
 
Since flooding was also extensive in Orange and Newton Counties, the Southeast district has stepped up in big ways. FUMC Mauriceville immediately opened as a shelter for displaced persons. They are now housing relief workers, providing lodging, showers, and meals, as well as serving as a drop off/pick up location for flood buckets.  Pastor Sharon Sabom has been leading the effort in her Deweyville and Mauriceville churches to address the damage. She was interviewed for the local news during the initial hours of the crisis and informed the region of a shelter set up in the church.
 
Additionally, Rev. Amy Walker from FUMC, Nederland is coordinating all volunteers in the Southeast District. The North District areas of Kilgore and Marshall also suffered extensive flooding. FUMC, Marshall is serving as a flood bucket distribution site for the region, under the direction of Rev. Rodger Garbs, and FUMC, Karnack, under the leadership of Rev. C.W. Huff is serving as a staging point for Early Response Teams coming into the area to work.
 
“Over 1,000 flood buckets were been distributed in the Southeast and North District in the initial weeks,” adds Scott, “depleting our on-hand supply during the immediate aftermath.  Rio Texas conference sent several hundred flood buckets to Marshall and Mauriceville, and TAC congregations also generously responded to our desperate need of churches to make flood buckets to replenish our supply.”
 
Special thanks to these volunteers and congregations for stepping up to assemble additional buckets:

  • St. Peter's UMC - Katy (Nathan Bledsoe),
  • FUMC Huntsville (Scott Dornbush),
  • Greggton UMC, Longview  (Temple Carpenter - layperson),
  • Christ UMC - Sugar Land (Renee Teel - layperson), and
  •  FUMC Lufkin (Bob Ford - layperson)
 
Certified Lay Minister/TACCOR member Tem Carpenter mobilized the team at Greggton UMC, Longview, to assemble 561 buckets, and immediately delivered 185 of the buckets to the site at Karnack, Tx. Working on behalf of McCoy’s Building Supply Company, Tem secured the items on short notice and at a discount. “We held two work sessions and are thankful to have the help of 35 volunteers including Cub Scouts, Boys Scouts, as well as the staff and the lay membership,” he says. “The teams were exhausted but they were happy that they could do a small part in the relief effort.  Bringing hope to the flood victims is one more way to share love as a United Methodist Christian.” Rev. Scott Moore greatly anticipates the day when the TAC Mission Depot will be able to house thousands of buckets once construction is complete this summer.
 
Emergency Response: The Proper Protocol
“The beautiful thing about Methodists across the globe is their immediate instinct to help,” shares Scott. “Our phones start ringing right away with people wanting to help, but it is very important that we tailor our response to the specific needs of the impacted community, including timing.”
He explains, “We often assume that people have certain needs and we respond out of that assumption.  This can lead to a second disaster where supplies inundate an area that is not ready to receive them.  The relief workers on the ground are then forced to deal with the unsolicited donations, many of which often go unused, rather than focusing their efforts on direct services to the survivors.  Unless a call is put out for specific items to be delivered to a specific person at a specific place and time, it is always unadvisable to gather physical items and send them into a disaster area.  You can actually do more harm than good.”
 
According to Scott, money and gift cards are the easiest to distribute and can be used to purchase whatever is actually necessary at the disaster site (which often changes day-to-day).  “If certain items are needed in this case: flood buckets, we will put out a specific call for those items and we will have a mechanism in place to deal with those donations,” he says.
 
Call to Action
FUMC, Conroe member Conan Henry is always ready for a “Call to Action.” Notes Conan, “As a self employed mortgage banker, I am able to take a few days a month to help during a crisis, and I consider that flexibility a blessing that many church members may not have.  Growing up in UM ARMY, I am prone to strap on my boots and get in there and help others, and I want to do what I can to bring attention to this opportunity for others to answer the call.” Most recently Conan served on the trained team that spent several days helping a family in Orange County get the moisture out of their flooded house as fast as possible. “Providing listening ears is as important as cleaning up the mud,” he adds, “because these people’s lives are turned upside down and they are too overwhelmed to figure out their next steps at first. I encourage people to get out and help. If you feel called, don’t make excuses.”
 
  • Anyone wishing to volunteer to work in Newton or Orange Counties along the Sabine River should contact Rev. Amy Walker, earthangel1231@yahoo.com, 409-291-2237.
 
  • Anyone who wants information about flood buckets, needs to arrange transport of flood buckets, or wants information about relief work in the Kilgore, Marshall, Caddo Lake area should contact Rev. Scott Moore, smoore@txcumc.org.
 
  • Churches are encouraged to donate to UMCOR Advance # 901670, US Disaster Response. Remember that collecting food, water, clothing or supplies is only helpful when specifically requested by the conference.