Coming Together After Harvey
The rain began to fall on Friday, August 25 and it didn’t stop. At least, that is what it seemed like for the residents of Katy. The rain did eventually stop on Tuesday, August 29, but not until Hurricane Harvey finished dropping 51.88 inches of rain – about 19 trillion gallons of water – on Katy and the greater Houston area.
For one Katy family, they’ll always remember the exact moment the water entered their home. Dewayne and Donna Hartman watched the water steadily rise like it never had before. Then at 7:15 p.m. on Sunday, August 27 water began to seep into their home.
Neither the Hartman’s nor many other families knew just how much the water was going to rise. The only thing anyone could really do was to sit, wait and watch. As the water began to slowly rise in their home, Donna and Dewayne along with their black lab Carter sat on the couch to wait.
After nearly five hours of waiting, a neighbor in a higher part of their subdivision with a two-story home came paddling up their driveway in a kayak. The water was now a foot high in their home and even higher in their back yard. The Hartman’s climbed out the kitchen window, situated Carter on the kayak and began to wade to higher ground with their neighbor.
They left their home of 26 years, each with only a backpack full of a few valuables and a pair of dry clothes. Thankfully in the days leading up to Harvey, the Hartman’s prepared their home the best they could. They moved valuables and furniture as high as possible to avoid losing absolutely everything for they had no idea what they would come back to.
Harvey was unforgiving and unforeseen. No one knew if their home would be flooded or spared, because despite the immense flooding from the “Tax Day” floods in 2016 – it was different this time. Homes would be dry just blocks away from homes that took on water. Even within the range of flooded homes, some were flooded to the rooftops, while some only had a few inches.
What Harvey did in a matter of days will take the people of the Katy community weeks, months and years to rebuild. Despite the immense damage and distress, the Katy community stepped up to the call to serve their neighbor.
The Hartman’s waited out the remainder of the storm at their neighbor’s home – the Naegeli’s. Already in the midst of the storm, neighbors were answering the call to serve. After helping the Hartman’s, Steve Naegeli made multiple trips to check on neighbors and assist with water evacuations close by, while his wife Lori Naegeli helped organize the calls of distress.
At this point, throughout Katy and the greater Houston area homes and businesses were already flooded to the rooftops. Evacuations were underway everywhere and the community was in distress. Unfortunately, Harvey wasn’t leaving anytime soon either.
However, despite the persistent rain and the water rising all throughout Katy, strangers became neighbors lending a helping hand in any way they could. Those who didn’t have water in their homes instantly began to find a way to help.
At the Adams home, the water was high enough to keep them confided to their home, but thankfully they were still dry inside. While, they had no immediate way of helping, Marisa and Bart Adams felt the call to serve.
“We caught wind that a swift water rescue group from the Uvalde County Fire Department, which is my parents’ hometown, was headed to town,” Marisa said. “We were locked in because of the water around us, but they could get to us.”
Instead of having the first responders sleep in their boats while it continued to rain, the Adams opened up their home to the eight men who were also answering the call to serve those in need.
Bart then heard about a group of firefighters and a swift water rescue team, Texas Task Force One, from Dallas-Fort Worth area who were in need of a place to stay. Within two hours Marisa had homes for them to stay in at various homes in the community. However, since they were on call they all had to stay together as a group.
“So the question becomes where do you house 40 people,” Marisa said. “So, I went down to our church, First United Methodist Church (FUMC) of Katy, and talked to our pastor, Reverend Dick White.”
FUMC Katy ended up being a major housing location or respite for over a hundred first responders including the Garland firefighters, State Troopers and others. They all were served breakfast and dinner, had a place to rest and received clean laundry, while they served those in need.
Additionally, FUMC Katy served as a temporary distribution center for Katy Christian Ministries when they weren’t able to open their doors due to flooding. Over the course of two weeks 2,000 families were served at the distribution center, 1,590 meals were organized and prepared, about 700 loads of laundry were done and 113 first responders were housed either at FUMC Katy or by church members in their homes.
“We were literally on call for two weeks and to get through that it takes strength that comes doesn’t from us,” Marisa described. “The ability to survive on what science would call adrenaline and what I call God’s grace for a two week period to be His hands and feet is pretty amazing.”
For some churches and organizations the call to serve started even before Harvey hit Katy. Parkway Fellowship felt Harvey was going to leave the Katy area with devastation as news forecasters tracked the storm.
“When we realized how big of a disaster it was going to be, the leadership at Parkway met to discuss what our church was going to do, how we needed to respond and what God was calling us to do to serve our community,” Gary Chevalier Connections Pastor at Parkway Fellowship said.
Chevalier then gathered his staff members and began dividing up the tasks they decided to tackle as a church. It started with church staff and members using their personal boats to help first responders with water rescues and fell nothing short of cooking meals (up to 800 meals in one day), and hosting a mobile command center for the Ft. Bend County Sheriff ’s department.
“When the rain started to settle down we started to switch into a relief mode,” Chevalier said. “So we decided to open our gym as a distribution center for things people would need.”
Parkway had everything from personal hygiene products to cleaning supplies, as well as brooms and shovels for anyone in the community to come and get, as they needed. Donations came from as far as Tennessee and were distributed to communities as far away as Refugio, Texas. After the water went down, Parkway and it’s members then got busy helping to muck out and clean up houses that took on water.
“It really was everyone picking a lane in the area they were passionate about and running with it,” Chevalier shared. “It was amazing to see all the people coming in and doing. Some were members of Parkway and some were people just wanting to serve.”
So many churches in the Katy area stepped up to the call to serve the Katy community. Several churches came together to form Katy Disaster Response to divide up the different slices of the response pie.
“We decided who would do what and who would run point on what,” Omar Garcia Missions Pastor at Kingsland Baptist Church said. “In the early days after the storm we were focused on shelters, clothing and food. As time went by, we focused on the need for mud out crews and how all of that was handled.”
One of the biggest resources Katy Disaster Response has for the community is their website katydisasteresponse.com. On the site those who need help and those who want to help can find out the information they need to move forward from Harvey.
As many in the community were busy serving, just as many were grieving and rebuilding, but they were not alone. The Hartman’s were able to return to their home two days later after the water had receded. Luckily, their home only had 18 to 24 inches of water throughout the house and was only flooded for about 48 hours. However, they still had a reasonable amount of mucking and cleaning to do.
“We thought we would just get the carpet out the first day,” Donna said. “But people just started showing up to help. I couldn’t have imagined the number of people that started showing up and just instantly knew what to do.”
In one day, dozens of people showed up at the Hartman’s home. Some they knew and some they had never met before. This story was replicated throughout the Katy community at the numerous flooded homes. For some families, the cleanup and loss was unfortunately much worse than the Hartman’s.
Across the community, even though the flooding varied, the acts of service were consistent. From FUMC Katy to Parkway Fellowship, Katy Disaster Response and many more churches and organizations, the people of Katy stepped up to serve. The organizations and the churches were merely the avenues the people of Katy fulfilled the calling in their hearts to serve.
“We serve because Jesus served,” Chevalier said. “We love people because Jesus loved people and that really was what we did as volunteers.”
Just as no one could have imagined the unprecedented amount of rain that fell from Harvey, no one could have imagined the tremendous response from the community of Katy. The response was nothing from this world, perhaps because the same God who controls the wind and the rain also made a way for his people to be cared for during this storm.
“I think it says that, at least in Katy, we understand we are the body of Christ and it takes all of us to do this,” Garcia said. “The biggest takeaway is people are seeing the beauty of Jesus on display.”