What I Saw in the Floodwaters of Houston
John Nolte's superb article in Breitbart, "Houston Proves Everything the MSM Says about Our 'Divided' Country Is a Lie" (September 4, 2017) prompted me to tell my own story. My family and I spent many hours in early September helping out at the "Mega-Shelter" for flood victims in downtown Dallas. What I experienced there was like nothing I have ever seen.
The Responders and the Services
The response of Texans, and Americans from all across the country, to the catastrophic Houston flooding proves the power and resilience of the human spirit. The magnitude of the logistics, the care, and yes, the love, is beyond extraordinary. I know. I have seen it.
Dozens of organizations virtually built a small city almost overnight in a space the size of 10-12 football fields. Evacuees from the floodwaters in Southeast Texas came in by the hundreds, then by the thousands. Hundreds of volunteers rushed in from nearly every state.
The Red Cross set up 5,000 cots and provided people who had lost almost everything with blankets, toiletries, showers, laundry service, child care, relocation and job counseling, and many other services. Salvation Army volunteers fed everyone, including volunteers, three meals a day. Volunteers from churches brought in water, juice, snacks, clothing, pillows, and other essentials. Children were provided school clothes, toys, books, puppet shows, and supervised play areas. Chaplains were giving out Bibles and providing spiritual comfort.
A small hospital was put together, including units for triage, primary and acute care, and stocked with all necessary medical equipment and supplies. Scores of doctors, nurses, and other medical staff worked shifts lasting anywhere from eight to eighteen hours. Medical services included mental health counseling, social work, and transport to other medical centers for dialysis and other critical needs.
Walmart established a fully stocked pharmacy for critical prescription needs like insulin and heart medication. HEB set up a store providing food, clothing, and other personal items at no charge. Evacuees were given free transportation to the Dallas Zoo, Six Flags Over Texas, outdoor movies, museums, and other cultural attractions. I even saw a small boy getting a haircut in a makeshift barber shop.
Texas National and State Guard, local police, firefighters, and EMT personnel, and other first responders, were there to provide security and safety, while checking evacuees in and out of the building. Janitorial staff worked around the clock to keep the shelter clean and free of trash. Emergency management volunteers performed countless duties to ensure that the flood victims had whatever they needed. FEMA was there for logistical, equipment, and financial support. The VA was on hand to serve the needs of veterans. The administrative record-keeping needed to keep track of victims, volunteers, services, and supplies was immense.
I came in with other volunteers representing the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), a nationwide network of citizen volunteers organized at the local level and associated with fire or police departments. My assignments consisted of escorting evacuees through the relief center with their few belongings; helping families navigate the huge facility; getting them settled into assigned sleeping spaces; acting as a runner for their various personal needs; and, unexpectedly, becoming a prayer partner.
I met volunteers from Massachusetts, Arizona, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, and many other states and Texas cities. I worked with hundreds of people who had interrupted their lives and come from distant places to help others in need.
I encountered one young lady who had suddenly decided to put her personal business on hold, get on a plane, and fly from Milwaukee to Dallas just to see if she could help. She had stepped out in faith into the unknown, and we caught her gently in God's safety net as she fell into a strange and unimaginable world of human need, hardship, and suffering. We gave her a quick tour, taught her to improvise, provided her with whirlwind training, and immersed her into shelter life. She found a calling and confidence to pursue a life of service. She also found herself giving and receiving unanticipated blessings.
As I walked the floor (which I estimated to be the size of 10 to 12 football fields), I found that many people just needed someone to listen to their stories and maybe hold their hands. I saw families and single mothers with two, four, or even six children, including newborns. I spoke to people who had been separated from families or had no one else in the world. I prayed with elderly and handicapped people and became friends with an elderly man with no legs in a wheelchair who always had a smile for me. I procured small stuffed animals and toys for dozens of small children and babies. I was rewarded with tiny smiles and blessed to hold little hands.
I have been amazed by the courage and hope and faith in God displayed by these victims who did not behave like "victims." They kept up their spirits and told their stories and, in very profound ways, ministered to me and other volunteers. Yes, there was some tension and tribulation, and there were some tears, but I saw miracles of strength and hope, and I love every hour I was there.
Finally, I met a woman who spent 14 hours in chest-deep water in her home – holding her family bible over her head the whole time – before she was rescued. She thought her son had drowned but had learned that he had also been rescued. He was later brought to the Dallas shelter, and they were reunited. We shared stories with each other and read scriptures from the Bible she had rescued. We laughed, we cried, and we hugged. I was blessed to meet this sister in Christ.
Funny: I didn't see anyone there from Black Lives Matter, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Democratic Party, Hollywood libs, or any other social justice warriors out there helping the thousands of black families who had lost everything in the flood. No one but us heartless Christians, conservatives, and other deplorables.
The liberal newspapers and TV networks can continue to try to divide us, call us racists, sexists, homophobes, Islamophobes, white supremacists, fascists, and worse. Let the leftist professors and their student "snowflakes" in the universities whine and cry about "micro-aggressions" and "trigger warnings." Let them take offense at every imagined "politically incorrect" comment and run for their "safe spaces" and riot in the streets.
Meanwhile, real Americans – men and women of every race, ethnicity, nationality, and faith – came together and proved them wrong every day through our relief efforts. Almost overnight in Dallas, and in many other relief shelters in Texas and other states, compassionate Americans built truly safe spaces for thousands of our brothers and sisters and their children in desperate need.
And these disaster victims blessed us every day with their broken but beautiful lives.
Hugh Reynolds recently retired from 32 years in federal service. He spent his entire government career in the "fraud, waste, and abuse" business, including 18 years auditing that beleaguered enterprise known as the U.S. Postal Service, which survives without a dime of the taxpayer's money. He is a lifelong student of public policy and considers himself an American Thinker.