Cleaning Up Houston and the Gulf Coast
Last night I spoke with a friend who spent last weekend in Houston, helping clean up after Hurricane Harvey flooding.
He and his wife were part of an estimated 11,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka “The Mormons”) who went to Houston. I realize many other church groups and other organizations are helping in Houston, and hats off to them. I mention these folks only because I know them personally.
These church members paid for their own food, drink, gasoline, and expenses. They went as a team to Houston, towing a trailer with tools and equipment. Their church leaders told them that this was not a proselyting activity – they were there to “provide Christ-like service,” not to share the gospel.
He told me that before he went to Houston, his local church leaders had arranged where to go and what to do. “Crisis Cleanup” in Houston assigned him and members of his team to work on one particular house. The owner of this house had submitted a “job order” to local authorities in Houston, requesting help.
Before he got there, other workers had removed soggy furniture and personal effects from the house. The owner put what she could salvage into two large garbage bags. Everything else went into a big pile on the curb.
The homeowner’s greatest concern was black mold. The best way to prevent black mold from forming was to remove anything that would stay damp. Some of the sewers had also backed up, overflowed, and contaminated the floodwaters.
The floodwaters had reached two or three feet above the floor. The first four feet of sheetrock were removed, so all remaining sheetrock in the house was dry and untouched by floodwaters. The damaged sheetrock also went into the pile by the curb.
He said the old hardwood tongue-and-groove floors had buckled from water damage. They could not be repaired, so they had to be removed. They’d brought battery-powered chainsaws and circular saws, but the saws were not up to removing the wet wood. They did the job the hard way with crowbars, pry bars, and hammers.
Every room in the house had hardwood floors. Each piece of wood in each floor was nailed down every 16 inches. The work party couldn’t get the sheetrock down and all the floors up in one weekend.
He was told that if lumber remains wet for more than a month, it begins to rot and must be replaced. After the floors were removed, the workers removed the 2x4s that had been under the floor and the tarpaper beneath them. This exposed the concrete slab under the house so it could dry.
It was more than 90 degrees in the house, and humid. All the workers were covered with perspiration. All workers wore masks. There was no electricity to run air conditioners. If there had been electricity available all the electrical outlets had been underwater, and it would have been too dangerous to plug in anything.
Because all the motels were full, the workers stayed in the gymnasium of a local school overnight. They slept in sleeping bags on air mattresses. They held their own Sunday services before going back to work on Sunday. Working on Sunday was allowable, he said, because you’d “get your own ox out of the mire” on Sunday, and you’d help someone else with theirs.
He emphasized the need for waterproof boots, long pants, thick leather work gloves, and masks. His crew brought flat shovels, wheelbarrows, crowbars, pry bars, claw hammers, drywall cutters, bug spray, and some five-gallon cans of spare fuel for the vehicles. They also brought a change of clothing, soap, and towels because showers were available.
This is the story about one work crew that worked on one house in Houston. Hundreds of thousands of houses flooded. In this case, the lucky homeowner had volunteer help from Northeast Texas to help clean up her house. Most homeowners will not be as fortunate.
Does this lucky homeowner have insurance that will repair her home? She’s elderly; does she have savings to pay for the repairs? If not, where does the money come from to make her home habitable again? No one asked. All they did was work hard to clean up the mess as well as they could.
A little work has been done; there’s a tremendous amount to do. The effects of flooding in Houston, small towns, and rural areas are greater than we who were not flooded out can imagine.
Cleaning a house up after a flood is a major project. More information on preparing for emergencies and surviving a disaster is on his website, <www.DisasterGuy.com>. You can e-mail the Disaster Guy at <DisasterGuy@wildblue.net>.