Disaster Relief Training was Perfect Timing
By Lindsay Peyton
Divine is the only way to describe the timing of FUMC Conroe’s disaster relief training session, which was held the weekend before Tropical Storm Imelda rained down on the area. A new crew of volunteers were made ready by Mission Center assistant Christine Riggle – only days before she would need their assistance herself.
“It’s a God thing,” Riggle said.
Rev. Janet Stilwell, pastor of congregational care and missions for FUMC Conroe, had been thinking about disaster relief training ever since Hurricane Harvey hit. She was ready to finally set a date when she ran into Mission Center director Scott Moore at Annual Conference.
Mission Center serves as command central for disaster recovery in the Texas Annual Conference. The facility offers 8,000 sq. ft. of storage for the tools and equipment needed for recovery – all at the ready. There’s a staging area to prepare supplies and room to train volunteers and first responders.
Stilwell and Moore decided to hold the session on Sept. 14, and 16 church members attended.
A few days later, the rains came. “We had more than 20 inches of rainfall in such a short amount of time,” Stilwell said. “It was just the volume of rain; you can’t take that amount.”
In just one hour on the morning of Imelda, Conroe reported 5.16 inches of rain. The onslaught continued, and in some parts of Texas, more than 40 inches of rain came down. There was major flash flooding around the state.
And the volunteers at FUMC Conroe were ready to spring into action. “We had these incredible people who were excited to help and recently trained,” Stilwell said. “It was pretty incredible. They were able to do what they felt called to do.”
Meanwhile, the trainer of the team was watching water rise in her own home in Conroe.
Riggle went to bed the night of the storm thinking that any bad weather was heading north. “Imelda was getting out of here, so I went to bed,” she said.
Her home had flooded once before she purchased it, but the city had since widened the nearby drainage for her neighborhood. No high water came into the house during Harvey – which is part of the reason she and her husband bought the place.
A little before 5 a.m., Riggle and her husband were awakened by an emergency flood warning, which set off alarms on their cell phones.
“At that point, it had started to rain but it wasn’t very hard,” Riggle said. “It got hard really fast.”
Around 5:20 a.m. she decided to check the road outside. “I left my husband and cats asleep to look out the blinds, and there was a lake in my front yard,” she said.
Riggle woke everyone up. They prepared for the worst – unplugging electronics, storing valuables on tabletops, grabbing medication – as the water began to seep in the front door.
For about an hour, 3 inches of water soaked Riggle’s home, and then it started to recede. She and her husband swept most of the remaining water out the back door. Then, her husband went back to bed.
“It was just getting light,” Riggle recalled. “In another hour, the rain got heavy again. This time, it started coming in the back of the house. I let my husband sleep, and I was watching the water get higher. There was nothing I could do.”
About 8 inches of water flowed through her home this time. “Water is very powerful and destructive, and people don’t always realize that,” Riggle said.
The roads also flooded. Once the waters all receded enough, around 5 p.m., Riggle and her husband left their neighborhood and headed to higher ground at her parent’s home.
The next morning, she got a call. “Friday brought us a newly trained disaster response team, Rev. Janet Stilwell’s group,” Riggle said. “They came over and within four to five hours, everything was moved out.”
There were eight homes damaged on the block and more in the surrounding area. “For a while our front yards looked like any typical flooded area,” Riggle said. “Half of everything we owned ended up on the curve. It was piled 6-feet high.”
More volunteers came over the weekend, and by Sunday, most of the sheetrock was demolished.
“A lot of people stepped up quickly,” Riggle said. “That was so I could be back at work on Monday, helping other people. It’s been quite a whirlwind.”
Now when she takes calls at Mission Center, she can truly sympathize with the person on the other end of the line. “When you experience it yourself, it totally changes your perspective on things,” she said. “Now when someone calls, I know exactly how they feel.”
Riggle explained that her firsthand experience also helps truly understand the process – and how slow it can be.
At the same time, she recognizes that she is one of the lucky ones. Her house will be salvageable. She and her husband will stay with her parents until they can eventually return.
“A lot of people lost everything in their houses and flooded to the roof,” she said. “And they lost her cars.”
Riggle also saw how important trained volunteers can be. “This is overwhelming — emotionally and physically,” she said. “One thing I’ve learned working with disasters – and now I know it from a homeowners perspective too – is that people want to help. They really do.”
Having a church family helps, she said. And the Conference’s Mission Center does that for the entire area, assisting anyone who needs them, regardless of their faith.
“You don’t have to be Methodist to receive our help,” Riggle said. “You can be any religion or no religion. Like Rev. Scott Moore says, if you have a pulse, we’re going to help you no matter what.”
She was able to get to the Mission Center shortly after the storm and bring flood buckets to her home and neighbors.
“We’re blessed to have this resource here,” Riggle said. “It’s such an amazing resource to have. It’s a little thing, that flood bucket. But when you open it up and find rubber gloves, cleaning supplies, insect repellent, it’s a great gift.”
By helping the whole area – from Conroe to Beaumont and beyond – Mission Center makes a positive impact on everyone, Riggle explained.
“As Methodists, we know that we are all God’ children,” she said. “This is how we show God’s love – through action.”