The last two weekends I’ve had the opportunity to take a few of the older Young Women on a hurricane relief work crew. Last week we got a glimpse of the destruction as we helped remove debris from a town about 10 miles north of the island.
Wednesday Galveston Island was finally open and residents could return to what was left of their homes. Friday I took the youth to the local LDS Stake Center to load the semi for Galveston. Thousands of boxes of food, hygiene kits and buckets of cleaning supplies were shipped in from LDS humanitarian headquarters in Utah for the citizens of Galveston. It was pretty amazing as we walked into rooms stacked floor to sealing with supplies ready to go.
Saturday morning we put on our yellow shirts (to keep from people shooting us, letting them know we were workers and not looters), pulled on our rubber boots and headed to Galveston with about 800 other LDS volunteers. For two weeks we have seen non-stop media coverage, but honestly no one knew what to expect. Driving onto the island was bizarre. There were hundreds of boats lined up next to the interstate, they sat in shambles on the shoulder, where dozers had pushed them rest to clear traffic lanes. Boats hung off posts and signs, sat capsized in the water, rested on top of cars in parking lots blocks from the water. I thought why a yacht of couldn’t landed in my front yard? From the outside there was damage, but the destruction was not as bad as I thought.
Our first home was just tree damage; we were in and out, and clean. You are given one assignment and then its just door to door to see what people need. Half a block down we found our house for the day, a one story brick home on a slab foundation that saw the force of the storm surge. We put on masks and walked in, the walls covered in mold to the water line – four feet. I have worked flood clean up crews before, but nothing to this caliber. Think of flood water, let it sit in a house that is boarded up for two weeks in 90 degree heat and left to fester and you have the interior environment of hundreds of houses in Galveston. The storm surge was so forceful it pulled everything off shelves and out of closets. When we walked into houses it was 1-2 feet of debris covering the floor. We found kitchen knives stuck in pianos, toothpaste in dining rooms, couches that had floated on top of coffee tables. Four feet of water in a house is almost total devastation. When you think of four feet, its every bed, every piece of furniture, every cupboard under the kitchen counter, the lower four tiers of books shelves, every electronic that was plugged in. The water was so forceful it flipped dressers and china cupboards.
This house had a sunken living room, it was now filled with 18” of backed up sewer that has been sitting for 15 days and it was rank. We spent the morning bailing out water by buckets and a 10 gallon wetvac. There was probably about 500 gallons of liquid sludge sitting on the floor. And in the middle was a beautiful piano, covered in mold, so waterlogged the keys wouldn’t depress. We pulled everything thing onto her front lawn so she could inventory it. My personal goal was to see the floor of the sunken living room. The damage is so wide spread, even a full days work does not make a dent. Chris and I stayed behind another hour to finish bailing out the living room, we squeegeed it clean and after four hours, found the pink tile that hide beneath the muck. It was one job we could complete.
It was the same story house after house. What once were prized possessions were now merely junk suitable to be handled only by a scoop shovel. The last house we help with was a foster home, we watched and consoled a girl the same age of those YW who helped sifted through the mess to find something, anything, and yet found nothing. I won’t lie it was emotionally hard to grasp. It was not the fifthly conditions or the smell that made it a difficult day, it was the people who were coming to terms with reality that they had nothing, it was those who expressed so much gratitude for your help and the tinge of guilt, that I would return home that night to a home, roof and all and they would wake up again in the morning to nothing.
The last house we were at we found black mold in a dresser. We got the content out and fast as we could and headed outdoors. For the first time that day I felt sick, we all did. Christina said that crap smells like gas….it took a moment to register, but it was gas. We quickly loaded up as they evacuated several city blocks due to a gas leak and we called it a day. It took three washing to make our work clothes smell bearable. I went out to dinner Saturday night and all I could taste was sewage and natural gas.
For me it was a good experience, trying and emotionally unsettling at times, but it brought closure. For weeks we have watched the aftermath of Ike, unable to help, and we were give that opportunity, as we will continue to help in the coming weeks and possibly months. I am so grateful that we fared as well as we did. I am thankful our home still stands and that my family is all safe and accounted for. The silver lining has been the community. Neighborhoods have pulled together and the sense of community has been amazing. This is my last hurricane report for a while, maybe for good. I am hurricane-exhausted. Hopefully the next photos I post of work crew in a few weeks will show lots of rebuilding and progress.