Houston-area residents hoping for FEMA aid after catastrophic storms

By Paulette E. Martin
Posted Apr 29, 2016

[Episcopal Diocese of Texas] Although most of the water has receded, residents in Montgomery County are now facing a harsh reality after historic floods that devastated the Greater Houston area last week—many have uninhabitable homes and others have no federal aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

More than 13 inches of rain fell in six hours and in some locations more than 16 inches of rain. More than seven deaths were confirmed during the flooding in mid April. Saturated ground means that continuing rain threatens more flooding in many parts of the several county area. Diocesan officials went immediately sent spiritual care teams into affected areas to visit with victims and hand out gift cards. Archdeacon Russ Oechsel and the Rev. Canon Michael Bamberger, a disaster preparedness coordinator with Episcopal Relief & Development continue to assess needs and will work on a long term plan to help with recovery efforts.

Streets in the Timber Lakes and Timber Ridge subdivisions near The Woodlands resemble a disaster zone with mattresses, furniture and sheetrock piled outside of homes.

The smell of mold permeates the air up and down the streets and traces of the high water level are still evident on the exterior of homes—for some residences it was waist high.

The heavy rains and floods affected approximately 280 residences in Montgomery County. President Barak Obama issued a disaster declaration for Harris, Grimes, Parker and Fayette counties making residents eligible for FEMA assistance but Montgomery County, where many affected homes are located, wasn’t included on this list.

Trinity, The Woodlands and other churches throughout the Diocese of Texas are working with Episcopal Relief and Development to develop a long-term recovery program as well as raising awareness of those who need help in Montgomery County.

Although Montgomery County was included in Governor Greg Abbott’s state declaration as a disaster area, Bamberger, who also serves rector of Ascension in Sierra Madre, California, believes residents still have a chance to be included in FEMA’s declaration through advocacy.

“Declarations get amended all the time … When they hear from multiple residents who are affected and who have called FEMA and registered, that’s going to put more pressure on them,” Bamberger said. “Find out who you know at the county level and start stamping your feet,” he added.

Carlos Rincón Gallardo lost just about everything from his Timber Lakes subdivision home. The night of the storm, he went back to bed when the power went out, only to wake with water rising in his home.

“We lost the power … so I decided to go back to bed,” Gallardo said. “When I touched the floor it was wet. I woke up my wife, everybody. I managed to get the cars out. No more than six minutes passed and the water came up to here (points to his waist). I have a baby. When I came out of my house, I was holding the baby (he held his arms up in the air) and it was still raining on us. We only managed to save the cars and that’s it.”

Despite losing almost everything after being flooded three times, Gallardo claims he is blessed, and had advice to other victims.

“Get insurance through FEMA if you know ahead of time you are living in an area prone to flooding. Or don’t stay in a house that could flood. It is better to live in another place. It’s not worth it to lose it all just to live in that house,” Gallardo warned.

Others are also partnering with Trinity to help. Missy Herndon, president and CEO of Interfaith of The Woodlands and of Interfaith Community Clinic said the organization’s goal is to assess the needs then provide the help.

“We go door-to-door and drop off information about our organization to let people know what we do,” Herndon says. “So far we have placed 17 people into shelters and have helped 30 families.”

Interfaith of The Woodlands is holding a “Shopping Day” at the South County Community Center to give victims an opportunity to pick up whatever they might need: diapers, clothing, towels and housewares. The event will take place Friday, April 29 from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Most Episcopal churches in the flooded areas fared well in the storm, although some had water seepage and roof damage. One clergy person had to be rescued by kayak at 4 a.m. and the rectory was flooded. Other churches responded quickly to parishioners who needed help and continue to help others as needs are shared. See previous story here.

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas has set up a donation account to help with needs as they are assessed.

St. Mary’s, Cypress is organizing work days for people of all ages to help their neighbors by clearing debris, moving furniture, making sandwiches, providing assistance, and, most of all, prayer and a safe place for all to be welcomed. They will also be handing out gift cards from Wal-Mart.