Houston Police officer Daryl Hudeck carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son, Aiden, after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters on Sunday in Houston. Photo: David J. Phillip/AP
This is Texas, and the Texan instinct is to pull on your boots, grab your 4×4 and tow your boat if you have one, or a trailer of food if you don’t, and head to the ravaged southeast coast and Houston area.
The reality is that many of us can’t do that. The other reality is that many of us shouldn’t. While we were all heartened by early stories of average citizens-turned-everyday-heroes those first 24 hours after Harvey mercilessly straddled Houston, rescue, recovery and evacuation need to be carefully coordinated. With some areas passable only by boat, and others only by high-clearance vehicles, there is a lot of tag teaming going on.
Right now, authorities are struggling to keep as much organization afloat as possible in a literal sea of chaos.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t take action in significant ways, right where you are now.
Social media sharing
There are several groups formed on Facebook that are keeping track of people who can offer assistance to both humans and animals, whether it’s physical refuge, donations of food and supplies, or using a trailer or vehicle. Sharing on these groups helps concentrate assistance and telephone numbers to prevent duplicate efforts, and to facilitate coordination with FEMA and other relief efforts. If you see a post of someone needing or offering help, share it to one of these groups rather than just on your personal page.
This sharing is powerful and has already saved people, livestock and household pets.
Think twice before you clean out your closet. With so much physical destruction and with as great a population that is affected – remember Houston is the 4th largest city in the country – space is at a premium and the manpower it takes to sort and organize clothes could be better spent. The best thing you can do right now is donate your dollars to a charitable rescue organization, or give blood. This article gives excellent advice on how and where to safely donate, knowing your money will go directly to the victims – including a Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund set up by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. The Central Texas Red Cross is always a good bet and will let you earmark your donation specifically for Harvey relief.
Spread your donations around. Donate to the Texas Diaper Bank, which provides diapers to babies and adults alike. And remember that long after the images of families and pets wading in chest-high water have left our television screens, the painstaking process of recovery will be enduring for months, even years. The Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund are just some of the organizations that need financial assistance for these long-term efforts.
Contact your local animal shelter or animal rescue group to see how you can help. Shelters will be overwhelmed with household pets, so fosters will be in great demand. Austin Pets Alive! is taking in affected pets; statewide, contact the SPCA of Texas.
If you have land, contact a local equine rescue group or your county extension agent to see if you can provide refuge to horses, cattle and other displaced livestock.
And for families, if you have a home registered on Airbnb, that organization is waiving all fees for its registered hosts who offer housing to evacuees. You can also put the word out to your civic, religious and community groups if you are willing to offer housing to those misplaced by these disasters.
Aid agencies and organizations around the state are overwhelmed during disasters. Even those hours away from ground zero, like the Austin Disaster Relief Network, are called upon to share resources and offer assistance. Animal shelters are overwhelmed with new intakes from affected shelters. Call or visit these organizations and see what you can do to bring some relief to overworked staff and volunteers.
Paying it forward, because Tejas means friend
Texas is very diverse geographically, and often our disparate landscapes – and unpredictable weather — lend themselves to volatile and extreme disasters, whether it’s hurricanes on the coast, tornadoes on the plains or wildfires in the pines. Texans remember, and when the day comes that you or I need help, our friends who cry out to us now will be there for us.
Count on it.