ROCKPORT—As public utility crews labored in Rockport and neighboring communities along the Texas Gulf Coast to restore power amid electrical poles sagging or snapped in two like matchsticks, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief (DR) teams worked assessing damages and assisting victims of Hurricane Harvey in the area, Sept. 1.
SBTC teams commandeered the parking lots of Coastal Oaks Baptist Church while the church joined neighboring congregations in opening its facilities for the distribution of food, water, clothing, baby items and pet supplies to those in need.
“We’ve got dog food, diaper wipes, baby food and formula and clothes for every size,” said Glenda Lindsay, Coastal Oaks children’s ministry director, as she assisted victims.
“We served 75 families yesterday [Aug. 31] and three times that many before lunch today [Sept. 1],” said Andrew Barlow, Coastal Oaks associate minister, whose own home suffered extensive damage from uprooted trees.
“As the need became evident for a distribution center here in Rockport, we had to make the call. You either use it or you don’t. We decided to use it. We are staying at capacity. As donations are going out, more are coming in,” Barlow added.
Coastal Oaks escaped severe structural damage from the storm. Brick facades on the church gym were shorn off the building and trees uprooted by violent winds that accompanied Hurricane Harvey and made the region resemble one ravaged by a tornado.
Mike Phillips, fresh from a mud-out deployment to Illinois, brought a chainsaw team from First Baptist Bellville and was joined by volunteers from Del Rio, Borger, Pflugerville and Wimberley.
“We had a week and one day [between disasters],” Phillips said, his voice raised over the buzz of chainsaws as his 12-man crew sliced through trees threatening a home on Cenizo Street, the first of three work orders scheduled on that block. Every work order is free of charge, a great blessing considering the significant costs associated with tree removal.
“We got home [from Illinois] Monday night [Aug. 21]. The next Monday I got a call to prepare to bring a team to Rockport.”
Phillips said assembling a specialized chainsaw crew for Rockport was “easy,” and many people were “ready to come down.”
“Our focus is to help families where there is what we call a priority one situation, where we need to get trees off the house and the situation is dangerous,” Phillips explained, gesturing to uprooted trees in the home’s side yard that would be left alone because they posed no threat.
Around the corner from the First Bellville crew, Sharon Sanders, who attends Coastal Oaks, surveyed the ruins of her trailer and waited for an adjuster.
“I’m tough,” Sanders said. “I have ridden them all out except one in the 1960s when I got stuck on the highway.” Although she sheltered from the storm nearby, she was back to pick up the pieces.
Back at Coastal Oaks church, DR volunteer Debby Nichols said she had committed to a month-long deployment and was in charge of a unit from Texarkana tasked with feeding the 35 SBTC DR volunteers on site.
“This is my first deployment without electricity and water, which makes it a bit difficult to cook,” Nichols said as generators hummed behind her.
“It’s hard to stay cool at night, too. But it’s all right. I have a home to go home to,” Nichols said.
Nichols’ helper, Lizz Jelsma, left Silsbee when floods threatened. So far, Jelsma’s home had not suffered damage, but her husband spent yesterday at Silsbee helping neighbors remove soggy carpet.
Jelsma took the couple’s toddler to her parents’ home in Texarkana, then deployed to Rockport with her father, SBTC DR volunteer assessor Ken Turnbo.
George Yarger, logistics officer and head of communications, arrived Tuesday with men from his home near Mabank. Yarger and crew brought the SBTC’s DR communications trailer, equipped with ham radio equipment, satellite potential and computers.
Yarger called this deployment “different” in terms of communications, with unreliable internet and no power. “Whatever we can get on our cell phones is the only data we have.”
“One of our main jobs is to make sure each crew on the field has a clear line of communication in case emergency services are necessary,” he explained.
“Mosquitos became a problem today. The hurricane seemed to have blown them away,” Yarger added. “Unbelievable bugs. We found if we turned the lights off, it was not a problem. I was having to type around the bugs.”
Chainsaw crews also mentioned swatting mosquitoes.
Yarger said so far the deployment had been smooth in terms of logistics and the moving of equipment, despite the lack of electricity.
“I’m responsible for basically anything that doesn’t have a soul,” Yarger noted of his role as logistics officer. “Equipment makes the work happen, but…we are here because the work allows us to share the love of Jesus Christ with people.”
Yarger said he loves it when people ask, “You mean there’s no charge for this?”
He said he answers, “Of course there’s a charge for this, but it was paid for with the blood of Jesus Christ. We have come here to share that.”
“There’s always someone who needs the touch of Christ,” Yarger said.
Chaplains Brenda and John Fuller of Grand Saline had such an appointment on Friday when a middle-aged man named Carter prayed to receive Christ when the Fullers were assessing his house for damages.
“As far as the work in the Texas Gulf Coast goes, Yarger said, DR crews are “going to do big jobs for a long, long time.”
Get up-to-date information, find opportunities to volunteer, and give online at sbtexas.com/harvey.