The temperatures outside have cooled down and the leaves have started to turn. It must mean fall has finally arrived. It’s November and the holiday season is upon us. Thanksgiving and Christmas are full of traditions and a time to look back over the year and celebrate with one another. As I look back at 2017, I have to admit there were times when I watched what was going on in our world and wondered if there was anything positive left in it. News stories are full of hate, violence and one natural disaster after another. Our country could not be more divided in its values and politics, which is shown to us on a daily basis. However, following the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, my faith was given a boost by the kindness of strangers.
As most are aware, a category 4 hurricane named Harvey slammed into the south coast of Texas, near Rockport and Port Aransas, around 10pm on Friday, August 25, 2017. My husband and I have a home there in Port Aransas on Mustang Island, one of the barrier islands just off the mainland. We were safe in Dallas while the storm came in, but found it very nerve racking to be so far away and not know what was going on. We stayed glued to the weather channel and social media that evening in hopes to learn of any news around our area.
The damage to Mustang Island was extensive. All communications, power, sewer and water were lost. Emergency crews could not even get on the island without clearing all the debris off the roads first, which took almost a week in itself. No residents were allowed back on before they could remove all electrical lines from the roads. It was just over a week before we were allowed back on the island to assess damages to our home. Port Aransas was considered a 100% loss. That does not mean everything was destroyed, but that everything had sustained some kind of damage, some obviously more than others. It was weeks before they were able to restore power and even longer for water and sewer. There were no grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, gas stations, medical or city buildings (i.e. police) left operational. Absolutely nothing!
While we had seen some pictures showing up on Facebook of the area, we honestly were not prepared for the devastation of what we drove into. Complete neighborhoods wiped out. Those that were still standing had significant damage. Roofs missing and mobile homes tossed about like rag dolls. Boats littering the streets giving a new meaning to the term dry dock. Every power line down and covered in seaweed. All matter of items found in the strangest of places. However, in all of this chaos, we saw such humanity from perfect strangers.
As we approached Port Aransas on the Island Road, we saw hundreds of utilities employees working around the clock to restore power to the island. They had make-shift stations set up in multiple locations that never shut down. The Texas Highway Patrol were there in numbers to help the local police keep the island safe from looters and basic crime. They cruised the streets and had check points set up to monitor who came on the island.
While this was impressive, what we came upon next is what truly brought my faith back and tears to my eyes. As we pulled into town, we started to notice tent cities that had been put up on many street corners. Perfect strangers, that had their own lives to live, came down with their own materials and set up pop-up food courts. They had large commercial sized smokers where they were cooking everything from hamburgers to brisket. They had generators running to be able to have things such as cold cuts to make sandwiches. Next to them were pallets stacked high with cases of water to be handed out to whomever needed it. And every single item was FREE! Most had taken donations from organizations, churches and anyone else that wanted to donate; purchased hundreds of pounds of meat, took time off work and came down to set up shop. While the Red Cross was there to help, that is not what these were. These were just regular citizens that saw a need, went into action and made it happen. But it didn’t stop there.
There were also tent stations set up throughout the island that were giving away things such as cleaning supplies, medical supplies, ice, and even small hand tools like saws. Ace Hardware’s store on the island was damaged significantly, so they brought in a truck of supplies that was parked in their lot and again you saw the sign FREE posted on the back. Volunteers even took to driving the streets to pass out food and water to those working on their homes and businesses. A fuel truck was brought in so that residents could gas up their vehicles and keep their generators going, and once again for free.
One thing is for sure, volunteers are at the heart of this cleanup. There were so many showing up to the island to help, the city decided to make the museum a hub for all volunteers and set it up so that residents could come in, sign up for how many they needed and for what they needed help doing. The response was unbelievable and they just kept showing up, day after day and week after week.
Our first weekend was spent tarping the roof and patching up the open areas of our home to hopefully avoid further damage. However, the second trip down I found myself alone to meet insurance adjusters. My neighbor had told me about the volunteer center, so I went up there to get on the list. About two hours later, I had a very nice couple from Austin, Texas, come over and spent hours with me helping to remove debris from our home. This was not normal work for either one of them. He was the CEO of a software company and she was a nurse administrator. They had no ties to the island other than they just wanted to come down and help. They came prepared with gloves and back supports and we all worked until we just couldn’t move anymore. They didn’t ask for anything, other than a picture to show what we had accomplished.
I am so thankful this year for the kindness of strangers. To those that gave up the comforts of their lives for a while, to come help us get ours back. All of these volunteers gave us a great start to what will be a long process. They also managed to bring some hope back in what sometimes feels like a world lost. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!