Arriving at the shelter in Port Arthur, Texas, was a bit of a surprise following Hurricane Harvey. A well organized and patterned setup of 12-person tents and a cafeteria tent stood perfectly distributed along with a huge 250-person tent with a second cafeteria, two laundry units, trailers with showers and toilets. All tents were air conditioned considering the extreme heat and humidity of the area. It all seemed, almost luxurious until you begin to realize that the people living there have lost everything.
What Is Everything?
Hurricane Harvey survivors at this site had lost their home. Some homes had two or more feet of water, many with chest high water; people lost their furniture, clothing, and many had no form of identification which was lost in flood waters as they fled. Without identification, survivors can NOT receive any services.
FEMA, Red Cross, or any other services can NOT accept disaster victims without identification. Therefore, they must begin the process of identifying who they are. Victims have to re-issue their birth certificate and obtain their driver’s license or identification card from the Motor Vehicle Department or obtain a replacement social security card, or other forms of identification.
How PDA Helps
Trinity Presbyterian Church has been working with PDA for a long time. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is the emergency and refugee program of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. It connects with key organizations active in the disaster response. The Red Cross requested assistance from PDA which sent eleven spiritual care volunteers to the area. I was one of them.
And I must say that despite the bad press FEMA and the Red Cross have gotten during the hurricanes, in my experience working with them I have seen that they are tireless workers who care greatly for the people they serve. 5800 Red Cross volunteers are serving in Texas and Florida and people from all over the world gave up time to fly in to help.
During my two week stay at Port Arthur, I listened to story after story from those affected by the disaster, of where they were when the flooding occurred. I heard about boat rescues, helicopter flights, being carried on someone’s back, and even the Cajun Navy, a group of people from Louisiana that came to help. Some were transported to Dallas to a shelter, and they told of the long waits on buses still in their wet clothing and the military plane ride to DFW. In addition, seeing others drown when no one could get to them in time. We shared tears together, laughter, and their life stories.
Human Resilience and Faith
This shelter was a very temporary facility that will be closed before long, somewhere survivors can stay before relocating to another shelter or temporary apartment or house. Remember, people who lost their home are at the mercy of their landlord and when their apartment can be renovated. There are thousands upon thousands of homes needing renovations.
most said they were “ok” and they would get back on their feet in time.
Among many conversations, I visited with one homeowner, a single woman with 22 years of military service, who had mold five feet up the wall and floors black as coal from the growth of mold while she was doing the work by herself. Nevertheless, one thing was universal—most said they were “ok” and they would get back on their feet in time. Even after losing everything, they expressed hope and their belief in God!
Most noteworthy, volunteering in PDA’s disaster relief effort has been a heartfelt experience. I had the opportunity to participate in a hands-on worship of prayer with many of the survivors on Sunday morning. It is a pleasure to serve others and to know that, in some way, you have helped in their emotional recovery and healing…
Phil Darby, PDA volunteer from Trinity Presbyterian Church in McKinney
Port Arthur Shelter Area