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Caring echoes through TX

BY SUSAN KIM | HOUSTON, TX | June 26, 2001

"I think that was probably the first good day she had since the flood."

—Ray Winters

A sense of caring is

softly touching the 20,000 Texas households struck by floods.

The extent of this disaster -- one that affected more people than most of the last decade's hurricanes -- is evident in the thousands of people waiting for help. And it's daunting for flood response teams who are trying to meet as many needs as quickly as possible.

But reaching out to one person -- one child -- might unexpectedly touch other lives, said Roy Winters, coordinator of Disaster Child Care (DCC), a program administered by the Church of the Brethren that trains people of all faiths in how to care for children after a disaster.

Some 30 DCC volunteers are at six American Red Cross service centers in the Houston area, caring for children so their parents can take on

the paperwork, stress, and physical labor

associated with this stage of flood cleanup.

The childcare areas have become more than just

a place to safely leave your children, Winters

said. They've grown into a haven for whole

families and for the wider community.

"One family brought in some children, and the grandmother of that family was with them.

She had been traumatized during the flood evacuation. Her family asked if she could just sit

in the recliner in the childcare area and relax. Of course we said yes.

"It turned out she hadn't slept in three days. When she was with the family in a truck being

evacuated, the whole truck washed away. She saw her grandchildren floating. Everybody

was okay but she has this image in her mind that they had perished."

In the recliner she was able to fall asleep almost immediately, said Winters. "She slept for

several hours."

Moments like these sometimes quell the feeling among response teams that they just aren't

reaching enough people. Marian MacNeill, a volunteer for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

who has been responding to disasters across the country for many years, said the single

most unique characteristic of Tropical Storm Allison's flooding is the sheer extent of it.

"People are flooded all over town," she said. "There are pockets everywhere you look. The

streets are still just lined with trash, and when you think of all the other places Allison hit, all

the states through the East Coast, all the lives in northern Philadelphia, you just realize how

huge this is."

Fred Toland, a field consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is another

longtime disaster responder who was surprised by Allison's longevity, both in terms of

time and miles covered.

"I do not remember a storm that did quite what she did," Toland said. "She fired up in the

Pacific Ocean, crossed over Mexico, went into Texas and then started on a path that took her

into every Gulf state and then moved up the Atlantic coast and hit every other coastal state

all the way into New England. I have never heard of anything like this. Allison left death

and destruction in her wake until she finally moved out to sea."

Allison was a grim reminder that residents and response groups alike are vulnerable

throughout hurricane season, not just at so-called "peak" times.

"We could have much more in store before November comes to an end," said Toland.

That's why, as responders care for 20,000 in Texas -- and thousands in other states -- they

watch the forecasts for the next storm.

DCC has touched the lives of about 1,364 children in Texas, said Winters, where the stress of

families is showing in the youngest members. Another storm would knock out the little bit

of hope that's been built up.

"Kids are coming in with mosquito bites and they're dirty. They're not getting the level of

care we'd like to see them getting. But most of all, they need the feeling that they have a

safe place. That's why even adults come in and sit down."

Winters added that the stress on families is pronounced because, for many, the flood

affected homes and jobs. "A lot of people lost their cars. If you have a one-car family, you

can't get to work. You lose your job. Then you can't rent an apartment."

Amid the bleak statistics, Winters said that volunteers -- whoever they help -- are making a

real difference.

When he was caring for children in Houston two weeks ago, they drew pictures for him.

"One little girl wrote a note on her picture," Winters remembered.

"It said 'What a good day.' That meant so much to me. I think that was probably the first

good day she had since the flood."

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