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Houston residents share survival stories

BY SUSAN KIM | HOUSTON, TX | June 14, 2001

That's how one Houston area pastor described his experience with the floodwaters that inundated his city.

And there are thousands of other personal, compelling stories of people whose homes and belongings were overtaken with water.

Warren White, an elderly Houston resident who lived in the Yale Court apartment

complex, was watching television coverage of the flood when he looked out the window.

"Water was almost over the hood of a car in front of my house," he said. "I told my wife to

go upstairs with my daughter, who has a second floor unit, and that I would stay down

here to see what I could do about our things."

The manager of the apartment building, Belynda Dunbar, was awakened at about 1:15 a.m. when a resident from the back side of the complex called to say that water was coming into her apartment. Dunbar got up with the idea of temporarily moving the resident and any

others with the same problem to one of nine vacant units on the second floor. But when she

got to the front door to leave she noticed water seeping underneath.

When she opened her door, a wave of water hit her in the chest.

"I was concerned because of the elderly people here, and most of them live alone," said

Dunbar. "About half of the downstairs units are rented by senior citizens and disabled

people, and some of them are in wheelchairs.

"And I know if the water was in my chest, a person in a wheelchair doesn't have a chance."

All the residents were rescued. And, sometimes, their stories of loss are softened by stories of a caring response from people willing to help.

Dunbar said seeing a red and white Salvation Army truck pull into the parking lot was the

"single best thing that happened other than when it quit raining.

"It gave everybody out there the feeling that somebody cares and that somebody is going

to pay attention," said Dunbar. "I had been trying to feed these people. I tried Saturday

every way in the world to buy bread, and that wasn't happening."

Gil Furst of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) said that "personal memories, baby toys,

family photos, favorite chairs, sports equipment, books and letters are soggy heaps ready

to be hauled away. High temperatures and humidity are already producing mold


He added: "The full impact is still unmeasured."

LDR is providing an initial $25,000 to Lutheran Social Services of the South to assist flood


The death toll from the remnants of Tropical Storm Allison is 27. The storm cut a path

through from Texas and Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and the


In Texas and Louisiana, some 20,000 homes were flooded. Flooding there was so severe

that many groups normally offering relief had their own facilities damaged or completely

wiped out.

Damage estimates are expected to reach $2 billion in Texas alone. Already, police are

warning flood survivors to beware of scams, including door-to-door cleanup and repair

services, freelance insurance adjusters, price gouging, and repair jobs that never get


Since the state of Texas doesn't license or regulate contractors, consumers need to be sure to

check their backgrounds, police reports warned.

Faith-based groups are increasing their support as the storm continues its wayward trek.

Week of Compassion, a giving program coordinated by the Christian Church (Disciples of

Christ), has provided $21,000 in emergency grants to begin meeting immediate needs.

In Louisiana, Velma Watson of Terrebonne Readiness and Assistance Coalition (TRAC)

reported that initial assessments were continuing but confirmed damage was major. "We've

got a lot of it," she said. "We can't even get into some areas yet."

One characteristic of this disaster, Watson said, was that many of those whose homes have

been damaged are in areas that had not before been affected by flooding. Many of those

whose homes were damaged in the Lafourche area, for example, did not have flood

insurance because their homes were on a "100-year" flood plain, Watson said.

"A lot of them are real depressed."

A Church World Service (CWS) disaster response facilitator traveled to Texas to work with

local interfaith officials and church leaders in Texas to assess needs for a long-term recovery

program in the Houston area. Another CWS volunteer consultant is traveling to Louisiana.

A team of trained volunteer Disaster Child Care (DCC) workers is also in Houston to

provide childcare in American Red Cross service centers. DCC, a program affiliated with

the Church of the Brethren, trains people from all faiths in how to care for children in a

post- disaster situation.

If people want to help flood survivors, cash donations are the best way to help, according to

responding groups. On Friday only local volunteer help was needed but faith-based groups

said that traveling volunteer teams would eventually be needed for long-term repair and

rebuilding of homes.

In Houston's medical district, the main disaster relief unit of Texas Baptist Men is preparing

daily meals for at least 15,000 people.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is sending $10,000 to local representatives to help

meet emergency needs. PDA is also considering sending funds to Louisiana after the

Presbytery of South Louisiana completes a damage assessment.

Both the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Christian Reformed World Relief

Committee (CRWRC) reported they were also contacting congregations and emergency

management officials in the worst-hit areas to try to assess needs.

"We expect significant involvement, especially during the long-term recovery," said said Bev

Abma, CRWRC disaster response administrator. "This is the first time in 13 years that a

storm of this magnitude has struck during the first week of hurricane season."

Florida also took a hard hit from the storm, according to initial damage assessments. Up to

10 people may have died in that state, and at least 300 homes were destroyed or damaged,

mostly due to flooding, said Jody Hill, executive director of Florida Interfaiths Networking

in Disaster.

"Most of the damage is concentrated in Tallahassee, Leon County," she said, where more

than 10 inches of rain fell in 24 hours.

The Salvation Army Warehouse in Tallahassee took in three feet of water and lost most of

its stored supplies.

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