On a beautiful South Texas winter day, I visited the Gulf Coast to see how far those communities have come five months after taking a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey. Having been around the disaster business for a while I thought I knew what to expect. But honestly, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw. Despite the progress we’ve seen in the Houston metro area, other parts of the state have not been recovering as well.

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Near Rockport, along State Highway 35, I saw what seemed like a full mile of debris piled high. Among the heaps of trash were portable incinerators and workers sorting it all into piles suitable for recycling or burning. I saw wood, metal, insulation, clothing, mattresses, furniture…all the things that people need to build their homes and live their lives. It was hard to see how much these communities had lost.

At the Methodist church in Aransas Pass, I met my new friend, Rebecca Connelly with All Hands and Hearts. She showed me around and shared stories about their volunteer groups and the people they were helping in Aransas Pass and Rockport. Local Boy Scout troops had turned the church gymnasium and its grounds into a community living space for volunteers who had come from all over the country and world to help the community rebuild. Rows of bunk beds were built to fit the blow-up mattresses the volunteers slept on every night; portable showers were installed so volunteers could wash off the day’s work every evening.

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Local Boy Scout troops converted the church gymnasium into a community living space by installing rows of bunk beds for All Hands and Hearts volunteers.

Rebecca and I visited a mobile home in Rockport where “Charles” lives with his wife. This elderly couple had tried to stay with relatives after the storm, but they had moved back home when that became too difficult. But their home was not really livable, especially for an aging couple with illnesses and minimal resources.

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Charles worked with volunteers to sort through ruined belongings that needed to be destroyed.

Charles was grateful for the crews who were hard at work “mucking and gutting.” Working fast, the volunteers were stripping out moldy insulation and flooring, and helping him sort through belongings that really needed to be destroyed. For Charles, the next phase will be sanitizing his home to make it safe to live in. Hopefully, he will also get on the list for rebuild and repair soon.

We then visited “Angie,” who was lucky enough to already be at the sanitation and rebuild stage. Despite the chaos, she and her husband were still living in their mobile home, making their life happen in one bedroom, with a portable sink in the kitchen. Though they had considered buying a new mobile home, they didn’t want the debt. She’d raised her children in this home, and though it wasn’t much, it was theirs and it was home.

The last home we visited was also at the sanitation stage. This modest mobile home was separated by a small culvert full of water from a neighborhood of larger homes, complete with boat and RV storage garages. Ironically, all the nice homes either had not been damaged or had already been repaired. Two very different worlds.

One thing I learned during my visit was that, unlike in Houston where the flood waters rose up from the bottom, these houses had flood waters come in from the top. Many of these homes had their roofs damaged or even lifted and moved, which caused tragic leaks that destroyed all the walls and floors.

I also realized that there’s a huge community of big-hearted people who are ready and willing to make another person’s life better. They will stop their lives for a few days, a week, or even months at a time to sleep on an air mattress at night and dive into mold and mess all day. Bravo, All Hands and Hearts and all the other amazing organizations, volunteers, groups and agencies who are working to rebuild Texas!

Please consider supporting the ongoing recovery needs of those most in need with a gift to the CDP Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund.