That’s how much water dumped onto Houston two nights ago. The number is even higher now, as the rains have not ceased. For an idea of just how much water that is, check out the Washington Post article. It gives an illustration.
Unless you’ve been under a rock, you are aware of the devastation that took place (and is still taking place) here on the Gulf Coast of Texas. My purpose in this article is three-fold: to provide a very brief summary for those of you outside the area, to solicit (plead really) for your prayer, and to provide some constructive action steps for those of you who desire to help.
On Friday night, Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm. It is the biggest hurricane to hit the U.S. in over a decade. It smashed into the coast wrecking several small coastal towns in its path. Rockport was hit hard, and the mayor of Port Aransas has requested people not return for a while as some areas are a total loss.
As the storm moved inland, it basically stalled and sat for two days. While it circled around, it continued drawing massive amounts of moisture off the Gulf and that is when the flooding began. The storm was west of Houston, which meant its rotation was dragging band after band of rain right across the top of the city. While Houston is no stranger to flooding, this event was record-setting. Parts of Houston received over 30 inches of rain within 72 hours.
Houston is designed to transport lots of water efficiently, but even the best systems can become overwhelmed. That is precisely what happened as bayou after bayou eventually topped their banks with unprecedented water levels. The result was a massive flood event that the National Weather Service deemed “catastrophic and life-threatening.” And it has lived up to its name.
As daylight broke yesterday, America’s fourth largest city was able to get her first glimpse of the devastation. Much of the city was underwater. Rescue efforts began prior to that first morning, but they swelled as people realized the extent of tragedy. City police and fire departments, the Coast Guard, and a small army of volunteers with fishing boats began showing up to the hardest hit areas. All day long helicopters, boats, and high-clearance vehicles scoured neighborhoods and rooftops gathering stranded families.
Truthfully, I have been very impressed by the city’s response to crisis. Despite people from the outside critiquing the insistence by city leaders not to evacuate, I think many many lives were saved by people staying in their homes and not being on these roads when the floods came. The loss of life, while always a tragedy, is remarkably small for an event of this magnitude. Most reports are saying that it is currently five people. Of course, that may rise, but consider: five out of 6.5 million people. Furthermore, the quick reflexes of disaster relief by various agencies have been a sight to behold.
Of course, stranded families are also displaced families. Some estimates are saying 60,000 or more have been displaced by this event. At least 30,000 of these people will wind up in makeshift shelters across the city. The downtown convention center, along with churches, some YMCAs, schools, and other facilities are being transformed into neighborhood-size dormitories. These people will need access to basic human needs, such as meals and a roof over their heads.
The storm is not over. Rescue efforts continue, as many more must be plucked from rooftops. As I write this, I look out my window at pouring rain. While the rains have slowed some, Harvey is supposed to make one more pass and who knows what that can do to an already crippled city. For now, we all await the final outcome of this disaster later in the week.
The Plea for Prayer
The tweets and Facebook memes are already popping up, and they are appreciated, but what Houston really needs is your prayer. It is easy to change your profile picture in sympathy, but it is another thing altogether to gather your family and friends around you and stop what you are doing to intercede for the thousands of families here.
Pray for the families in this city. Property loss will be in the billions. Many are injured, and many more will be displaced for a long time. We have no idea how long people will need to stay in shelters. This disaster has resulted in countless human needs. Houston needs intercession.
Pray for the churches in this city. Some churches will have major property loss. Some will need to be the recipients of mercy. Others will need to dispense mercy. No church in the area will be untouched by this event. I cannot imagine a church without personal connection to a member or family affected by the disaster. Our churches must stand in this moment as communities changed by the gospel. They will need the strength to do so and a love for their neighbors. Please pray for our churches. Pray for their ability to meet needs. Pray for their ability to present the gospel in this moment of immense need.
Constructive Steps for Assistance
A lot of efforts have already begun to provide relief during this event. However, it is important to understand the different phases of a crisis like this and where our help is best received. Often, our desire to help is in the immediate moments during a crisis, when help from a distance may be best received weeks and even months later. We will need help for many months to come as our various disaster relief agencies coordinate their efforts and provide pathways for volunteer assistance.
We have put together a summary of relief efforts and opportunities on our website at the Union Baptist Association. There you will find a helpful explanation by Tom Billings, our executive director, concerning the stages of a crisis like this. He lays out the path from rescue to relief on to recovery. It is a helpful read for anyone interested in how disaster relief works.
Furthermore, there are a number of Southern Baptist agencies who are gearing up to provide relief. You can find access to these on this page in the event that your church wants to support their efforts.
Check out our resource page here:
And feel free to contact me if you have questions. Thank you all for your prayers and assistance over the long months ahead.
Photo credit: Double Horn Photography