Captain Mark Crabb of the Salvation Army was stunned by not only the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, but by the spirit of the people who came together after the disaster.
“It was overwhelming,” Captain Crabb said. “I didn’t know what to expect because I had never been on a deployment to an emergency disaster situation before. I think I was in awe the first day or so, but then you realise what you are there to do.
“There were days where it was overwhelming, but the spirit of resiliency, the spirit of community that I witnessed for the 14 days I was in Houston was unbelievable. People just helping people.”
Speaking yesterday, Captain Crabb said he volunteered to be deployed to Houston as Harvey was on course to collide with the city.
The storm made landfall on August 25 in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane and caused massive flooding in and around Houston.
Even before the Salvation Army team arrived in Texas, Captain Crabb said their numbers were halved.
“There were 12 of us on the team,” Captain Crabb explained. “There were supposed to be 24, but Hurricane Irma was tracking towards Georgia and Florida.
“Half of our team was from Georgia and Florida, so they had to leave.”
With the Houston Airport closed, the group flew in to San Antonio, driving four hours to Houston the following morning.
“As we were driving in, getting closer and closer, you could see the water still rising,” he said. “A lot of the roads downtown were underwater.”
After an initial meeting, the group went to one of two shelters set up to handle the thousands of people affected by the storm.
“They were each set up for 10,000 people. On the two days we were there, I think they averaged 3,500 to 4,000 people in the shelters,” he said.
“It was sectioned off for singles, for families and for elders as well. Pets had their own area, and veterinarians were there offering free services. I think it was a big relief for the families that they could bring their pets with them.
“We would go and see how people were doing and if they needed anything, like spiritual support or prayer. That’s what we did for the first couple of days.”
Speaking to those who survived the storm, he said he heard dozens of amazing stories of communities coming together.
Captain Crabb said: “They would share the amazing stories about how they were rescued. People coming in boats or coming with air mattresses. Anything that would float.
“We saw a lot of homes with tarps over their roofs because people had to punch their way out. It was the only way to get out.
“In some areas they had eight to ten feet of water in their homes. I can’t fathom that. They had to get upstairs, get as high as they could and wait for someone to come and rescue them.”
He recalled one incident in which he and other Salvation Army volunteers prayed with a family who had not had a hot meal since the storm.
Moments later, a member of the public approached them asking if anyone would want freshly made pizza.
While Captain Crabb said he was only deployed in the area for 14 days, other Salvation Army teams are still there, and in numerous other disaster-struck areas, offering help to those who need it.
“The Salvation Army is in Puerto Rico,” he said. “It is still in the Caribbean. It’s still in Texas, still in Florida, still helping wherever they are needed.
“California as well, with the recent wildfires. Las Vegas with that tragedy. Mexico with the recent earthquakes.
“Wherever there is a need, the Salvation Army has positioned itself to deploy resources, whether it’s human resources, vehicles or supplies. Whatever the case may be.”
He called on members of the public interested in supporting Salvation Army disaster relief to visit the charity’s website.