PHOTO TOP & LEFT: The water nearly reached the top of the porch railing. MIDDLE: The children sat on the sofas because the water rose over the electrical outlets. Tabitha was afraid they would be electrocuted. RIGHT: This is how the family moved for eight blocks. Dad, Tim, is pulling and pushing a raft that used to be the porch flooring. The youngest son is sitting on top of the raft, and the other kids are holding on. Grandma Tomasina, in the plastic poncho, is hanging on to several more kids.
On August 26, 2017, Harvey (sometimes known as the “Houston floods”) dumped between 20 and 57 inches of rain on the city of Houston and the surrounding area. Galveston County, between Houston and the Gulf of Mexico, was heavily hit. With alarm, we noted a news photo showing residents of a nursing home in Dickinson, Texas, sitting in deep water while awaiting rescue.
We knew this was a bad storm. Now we, as volunteers with World Renew DRS, were to complete an Unmet Needs Assessment. It gave us a chance to hear their stories, report their needs, hold survivors’ hands, and pray with and for them.
During two weeks in May 2018, we interviewed well over 500 people whose lives were still far from normal. We reported their many unmet needs to the Galveston long-term recovery group for prioritizing and follow up.
Many of the people we talked to shared something like this:
“If only I had a stove, my husband and I could move back in our own little house.”
“If the big hole where our roof collapsed could be fixed, we can go back to our own house.”
“If only my family and I can all be in the same house again…”
We also heard over and over, “Thank you for listening to our stories. Thank you for listening.” We heard stories of courage, fear, faith, panic, love, sharing, and a community pulling together. A deep faith and trust in God came through.
Tabitha and Tim had both been through storms before. Even Hurricane Ike did not do serious damage to their home, and no storm had ever caused flooding on their property. They thought they had no reason to buy flood insurance. They were not concerned when local weather forecaster predicted heavy rain, or even when the rain started. When the rain stopped, they felt that the weatherman had maybe exaggerated. They breathed a sigh of relief.
Soon the rain started again and quickly became so heavy, falling in such unbelievable quantities, that the steps of their porch washed away.
Now Tim, Tabitha, and the children panicked. What to do? Stay and hope for help? Leave? How could they leave with seven children between five and 15 years old who could not swim? Once the water covered the electrical outlets in the walls, they knew that something had to be done.
By 1 PM, they called Grandma Tomasina, who lived several miles away. Grandma started walking, having heard the panicked children screaming in the background. After a while, she was wading through ever-deepening water. She felt a snake wrapping itself around her leg, and she screamed repeatedly, “God, save me from these snakes, in Jesus’ name!” The snakes let go. Huge spiders crawled up her arms, trying to get out of the water. Again, she screamed to God for deliverance, and the spiders never bit her.
Three hours after setting out, Tomasina reached her family. The children saw her from the window and cried, “Grandma is here! Grandma came to save us!” God answered their prayers.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. - Isaiah 43:2
However, their problems were not over. They had to plan to get their large family to safety. They ripped a porch off the front of the house and turned it into a raft. They put their youngest, autistic son on the raft along with a cooler filled with a change of clothes for everyone, and their important papers. The only one tall enough to keep his head above water was Tim.
Several children clung to Grandma Tomasina who could touch the ground at times. The rest tried to hang on to the raft that Tim was pulling. One of the girls was nearly sucked into a culvert, but Tomasina managed to grab her from the swirling water in time to saver her. The family was shivering and cold. At one point, they watched a fridge float by. Another time, Tabitha felt the roof of a submerged car under her feet and rested a bit, thanking God for this unexpected short reprieve.
After struggling for eight blocks, the water was low enough that they could all walk through it. Exhausted and chilled, they changed into the dry clothes the brought along in the cooler. They walked to Tomasina’s family home where they all crammed in to the small two-bedroom home.
In May 2018, eight months later, Tabitha and Tomasina met four of our World Renew DRS volunteers at a local festival. The volunteers encouraged the women to register their needs with our team at the walk-in-center.
My husband, Jack, and I visited Tabitha’s family at the FEMA trailers where they had been living for the past seven months. Grandpa Tim, who during this disaster was in Arkansas for his sister’s funeral, felt helpless during the hurricane as crying children told him that they were drowning. He showed us around what was left of the family home.
The family had worked hard to repair their home over the last eight months. Everything wet had been removed, and stubborn mold had been conquered. The drywall, beds, clothing, toys, report cards, wedding photos, sofa, kitchen chairs, frying pans, carpets, recliner, precious tools, and kitchen cabinets were no longer usable and ended up on the curb. A small amount of money the family received from FEMA was spent on replacing the drywall, porch, and steps.
The house still needs much more work and the family still needs building materials, furniture, appliances, beds, and bedding. Yet, their trust in God’s faithfulness is strong.
This is one of many families that fervently hope for help from World Renew DRS. The long-term recovery group has quite a challenge in front of them now that they are aware that 500 families are still in need of some sort of support. Everyone will need to continue to be patient while waiting for help.
Thanks to World Renew DRS, Tabitha, her family, and hundreds of others who were affected by Harvey are no longer forgotten. Not only does the Lord see them, they are also known to us (and we continue to pray for them), as well as the recovery workers in their community.
- Elly Dalmaijer is a volunteer for World Renew Disaster Response Services
Q: What happens next for Tabitha and her family, and others in Galveston?
A: The long-term recovery group in Galveston asked World Renew DRS to interview hurricane survivors in their community. Now that the recovery group knows who has specific needs, they can begin connecting Tabitha and hundreds of other families to the resources available. Together, they can start out strong as they have years of recovery work ahead of them.
Q: What are World Renew DRS’s plans in response to Hurricane Harvey?
A: World Renew DRS has been active in Harvey response since the early days after the hurricane. Click here to read a Six-Month Hurricane Update. World Renew DRS is working with a number of communities to support their recovery through services that include building estimating, needs assessments, and home repairs.
World Renew DRS focuses on long-term recovery and plans to work in Harvey response for several years. Your generous financial donations after the hurricane make this possible.