Harvey evacuees find refuge in North Texas
A day in the life
That is how some Hurricane Harvey flood victims who have temporarily relocated to Dallas are describing the past few days.
A test of strength.
A test of trust.
A test of faith.
There are hundreds of evacuees in North Texas right now. Some families are finding refuge at the homes of relatives and friends. Most of the flood victims are staying in shelters, packed with strangers, dealing with the test of tempers and struggles as they continue waiting and wondering whether they will have a home to return to after the rain stops and the flooded streets clear in communities across southern Texas.
I met a few of the flood victims in Dallas. In their vulnerable time, some of these men and women opened up to me about their thoughts and experiences as the world watches their communities destroyed by water.
-From Houston’s 3rd Ward
‘It’s hard because I’m worried about my family. My whole family is in Houston.”
We met Cena Walker at Inspired Vision Church’s Compassion Center in Pleasant Grove. Walker is disabled. She’s a stroke survivor, and says she constantly checks her blood pressure because of her poor health condition.The message I want to send is keep in touch with your family
Walker says she left her Houston home in the CUNY public housing complex, prior to Hurricane Harvey, because she knows the area is prone to flooding. She didn’t want to take any chances.
The past few days have been testing her patience, because communication has been inconsistent with family members who stayed behind in Houston.
“If I don’t hear from my family, I get very upset,” Walker explained.
Walker admitted watching television coverage of the flooding and rescue efforts in the Houston area is tiring, because she can’t stop thinking about her loved ones. She knows they are safe. She just wants to hear their voices. Walker says she cries when she can’t speak with her daughter.
“The message I want to send is keep in touch with your family,” Walker said. “Everybody just has to touch bases with everybody.”
For now, she is staying in Pleasant Grove with her friend Archie White.
-Brazoria County, TX
Mr. Soto has been volunteering at the Walnut Hill shelter for several days now. He’s become a regular face helping to unload donations from vehicles. Soto says he has been volunteering to help out and keep busy because they Red Cross and CERT team is short staffed.
‘I’m keeping busy, so I don’t have to worry about what’s going on at home.”
Soto evacuated Brazoria County with his wife and son. He says his wife is a nervous wreck. His son is staying with friends in Fort Worth.
He’s keeping busy, hoping his family doesn’t realize he is quietly wondering what’s next. Wondering when this is all going to be over.
Soto says he is frustrated not knowing what he will be going home to, since Brazoria dams were opened, releasing more water into his community.
The man says all the evacuees are trying to make the most of this transitional situation in a shelter. The Walnut Hill Rec Center is packed with more than 300 people. Soto says there are only two or three bathrooms for everyone to share. He would like to see more portable restrooms and a portable laundry facility for families to use.
Outside the Walnut Hill shelter, Patricia Sams sits in a folding chair. Her head is bowed. She looks exhausted… like the weight of the world is on her shoulders.
Sams, 58, has had a long and frustrating day. Frustrations, she said, began when she tried bathing.
“This morning I started crying because I wasn’t able to fit in the little showers,” Sams explained. “I have to have back surgery. So it scares me to either bend down or try to lay on those little cots.”
Sams says the frustration is compounded because she cannot find donated clothing in her size. She says sizes 4X and 5X are few and far between.
Family members brought the grandmother to the shelter with her husband and 5-year-old grandson who has autism.
She says being in this temporary situation is uncomfortable, but she is trying to make the best out of it.
Sams says she wants to watch coverage of the rescue efforts and get updates on tv, but that is tough. The shelter only has one tv set. The children there take priority watching cartoons. Adults get updates from cell phones and other evacuees.
Sams and her family are hoping to move to a motel, but they say connecting with FEMA has been a challenge.
Senator Don Huffines
In the middle of the afternoon, evacuees huddled around the Walnut Hill shelter were introduced to a man with a reassuring voice. Senator Don Huffiness walked around shaking hands. He welcomed families to Dallas and told them everything would be o-k.
“Dallas and Dallas County and Senate District 16 residents are stepping up and they are doing a good job,” Huffines said.
The shelter is in his District. Huffines says he wanted to make sure things were running smoothly and meet some of the volunteers and flood victims.
“Texans need to step up,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of opportunity to show the world, to show the United States, how big our heart is for our fellow Texans and how much we can help them.”
Pacing around the shelter, Jimmy Sams says he is a nervous wreck.
The disabled man says he hasn’t been able to take insulin in several days. His family evacuated with very little items, and very little money. Sams, like his wife Patricia, believes they’re under a lot of pressure. His grandson likes to run around and play. But the boy has been hollering and screaming around the shelter, because it’s an unfamiliar place.
Sams says he and his family were living in a garage in Beaumont. It was a place that already had cracks and holes in the floor. All Sams can think of now…is what more damage flooding caused.
“People have told me I don’t know what you are going to come back to, because you don’t have nothing,” Sams explained.
Sams admits he has been crying every day.
“I hope FEMA can help and get us from around here,” he said.
That is how young mother of five, Hermanique Lowe, describes what she has experienced over the past few days.
Lowe spent the afternoon pacing around holding her youngest child. A 3-month old boy. She and her family left Galveston island when the city called for a voluntary evacuation. Lowe says they did not want to take any chances.
She’s glad they left early. Seeing images of people trapped on the island is heartbreaking. Lowe says she’s been stressing out, knowing her home is damaged.
“It brings on a lot of stress, because I was just in the hospital yesterday for chest pains, and they said I was having anxiety,” Lowe shared.
The young mom says the shelter situation is also frustrating. She and other flood victims sat outside discussing some of the troubling things they’ve allegedly observed.
“People are taking the stuff and walking out the back door with it, I’m like what are you doing.”
Some shelter residents claim volunteers and some shelter residents are hoarding donations. Taking items other evacuees could use and need.
“I overheard one lady saying, oh I’m taking this to my house. It was some donations of stuff for the bathroom. She said I’m taking this to my house. I’m like are you serious? It’s people here that need stuff.”
Lowe says she is focusing on trying to figure out what is next. Neighbors told her she can’t get home because the major roads and highways remain under water. Neighbors are being rescued by truck, boat, and plane.
Lowe says she wishes more people would have listened to the voluntary evacuation call.
“God give you common sense, use your common senses,” she said.
Pastor Karen Belknap
As dozens of people gathered outside Inspired Vision Church, Pastor Karen Belknap helped guide a line of residents and flood victims through a line to collect food.
The church serves donated food to hundreds of families every day. No one is turned away. No questions asked.
When the team at Inspired Vision Church heard flood victims from Houston and southern Texas would be arriving in Dallas, they put out a call, inviting those families to visit Inspired Vision’s Compassion Center.
Belknap said, “Some of the families, the evacuees, that are coming to the houses are already food deficient. So, when you add another 10 family members in, or friends in, to an already food deficient home, it’s hard.”
Church members organized a room filled with diapers, cosmetics, and clothing.
As families picked up donations, there was a buzz of excitement in the air. Folks began counting down, waiting to surprise one family. The 90,000th visitor of the year walked through the food line this day. They were given a basket of special items.
Belknap says making sure neighbors and flood victims have basic needs is a must. Church members are committed to helping out the flood victims as long as possible.