By Matthew Sample
I just returned from visiting the hurricane-ravaged Texas coast yesterday.
I went alone, to someplace I’ve never been before, without any organization or even much of a plan. I don’t recommend doing so normally. However, here is how I did it safely.
Before I start, let me say that the news is not overblowing this hurricane as they have done in the past. It’s every bit as bad as the television says it is, and then some. News can only show you a little window. It’s much more overwhelming when the devastation surrounds you.
Having experienced that kind of damage before, I knew that I wanted to help. I also knew that where I wanted to help probably had no electricity, water, or gas. Also, food might be in short supply, cell signals might be bad, and local businesses would probably be closed as their owners and employees still were trying to put their lives together.
First, where am I going? How will I get there? How can I get back?
Because Houston was still dealing with a disaster and I am not experienced with that, I looked for churches or people closer to Rockport. I hit a bunch of negative answers until someone mentioned a film festival friend.
Over the course of a couple days I was able to find that they lived near the coast just south of Rockport and had literally dozens of trees fallen around them. They told me they didn’t have electricity, but they did have running water, food, a place to rest my head, and work for me to do.
I mapped the best routes to take, and drove the route virtually with Google Maps so I knew what it ought to look like. I also looked up road closings to make sure I could get there safely.
With the gas hysteria, I banked on gas being in good supply the further I got from SATX, I planned to top off the tank halfway to the coast and fill up my gas can. Thankfully, I was right.
I double checked my car to make sure she ran well and packed extra oil and other car supplies in the trunk just in case the worst happened to her.
While my friends said they had food and water, I didn’t want to take any chances. I brought a bunch of food that could last a good long time and some bottled water. That wasn’t necessary, but they did lose water for a bit and they did seem to appreciate the food. (The food they cooked was wonderful in fact it was some of the best meals I’ve eaten. It’s funny how disasters make you really appreciate things.)
A friend from church let me borrow his chainsaw and polesaw. I stocked up on safety supplies, sunblock, and most importantly… insect repellent. Finally, with no electricity, I planned to bring my laptop fully charged to charge my phone.
And then on a whim I stuck my ukulele in the car. One can never be too prepared.
Despite any confidence in my problem-solving skills, this trip was not guaranteed safe. I told everyone where I was going and what I was going to do. You know, they say if you talk about your good deeds they don’t count? Yeah, well, I spread this trip abroad. I wanted people to be praying for me. If the worst happened, I wanted folks to know where they could find me.
I left in time to arrive and unpack before dark came. Though I’d mapped my route out and believed the roads open, I did not know how passable they were going to be. And one road did have water covering a lane for a bit. As you can see from the picture, there are still downed power lines. When I arrived, I had to park in a neighboring drive and haul my supplies through a fallen tree obstacle course.
Speaking of the fallen trees and safety, the wildlife was all over them. And I’m not talking about SNAKES! The squirrels really enjoyed the jungle gym. Yes, thankfully, I didn’t see any snakes while down there. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t looking for them or that they weren’t out there somewhere. We heard other reports of snake encounters, so it was constantly on the mind when walking through those trees.
The trees could in fact be dangerous themselves. Often fallen trees twist together creating something like a spring. Cutting the wrong branch can suddenly release that coiled up energy hitting my chainsaw or me. After Ivan and I heard about a man who lost his life because he cut the wrong branch we became mindful of how the limbs would fall when we would cut them.. If the branch was bearing any pressure, we needed to think about how it might be bent or twisted. We also needed to consider how best to relieve that pressure. It’s important to think about those around you, too. Communication and general awareness is so important when dealing with falling trees and chainsaws.
Finally, not all safety concerns are around us—sometimes we must be just as much aware of what goes on within us. We must stay hydrated. Over-heating is an issue. Lifting too much at once or the wrong way can take relief workers out of commission for an extended period of time due to injuries. It’s not heroic to hurt ourselves. That just means we can’t help like we want to. We are not sprinting; a hurricane is a marathon.
Often hurricane survivors may not know what to do. The damage around them is so extensive. It’s hard to know where to start. They may be confused or may have a plan. They may be joyful or depressed. When we help cleanup, our first priority is not the debris but the people in the debris.
When I arrived, my goal was to make sure that I would do my best to clear the driveway; however, my friends asked me to clear a path their pasture and to help them hook up a generator. So I cleared a path to the pasture and helped with the generator before clearing (most) of the drive.
Right now those on the coast are in the debris stage. The debris needs to be cleaned up and eliminated and for some that will mark the end of their hurricane woes. For many folks the debris cleanup stage will just move into the rebuilding stage. For some that means fixing their house. For others that will mean rebuilding their house. For others that will mean rebuilding house, business, community. Our culture lives in such debt that a storm like this will be disastrous for many. I imagine a lot of folks will move from the Houston area to places like here in SATX or Dallas—someplace with jobs available now. Then they can eventually start rebuilding their lives.
Despite all the work that needed to be done, I didn’t just labor. I sang with them, played that ukulele, joined them for their Bible reading, prayed, joked around, listened to their stories, told my own… we had a grand old time. If I can bring a little normalcy to their crisis while still getting work done, it’s a win.
You know, though… they really ministered to me. Survivors aren’t weak. These were strong Texans. They’d been preparing for a hurricane for decades. Though their house had been shaken and trees had fallen all around them, their faith had not wavered. I came away having tasted some excellent cooking, enjoyed literally warm and gracious hospitality, and enriched in many ways by their faith and home. I’m grateful for my day and a half with these dear folks.
A CALL FOR WEEKEND WARRIORS:
Come join in. I’m encouraging those in the San Antonio area who can get away, to come help rebuild Texas.
I know helping can seem scary. After my first hurricane, the feeling of excitement wore off fast when I saw the hurricane damage. No road to recovery appeared in my mind’s eye. Meaningless damage stretched around me. But I started where we all start: doing something.
That’s all I’m asking you to do. For believers, this is a wonderful time to model our Savior’s selfless love and give of yourself sacrificially. For those who aren’t Christians, these are our fellow humans; their lives are shattered; they need our help. For Texans, this is not a coastal problem, this is a Texas problem.
How do we help?
– First, we care. We pray. We talk about this.
– Second, we give. People need water and diapers short term. They need houses long term.
– Third, we work. If a group of us get together, we can sometimes do things in one weekend what may take the survivors a month. Those of us who are able have no excuse to not help.
I’d rather not do this alone next time. Come join me.
Matthew Sample II is a dedicated friend of the Christian community, survivor of numerous hurricanes and a professional artist specializing in Digital illustration by trade working as a Graphic Artist at Enthuse Entertainment.