As Tropical Storm Harvey ravages the Gulf Coast, Texas Panhandle first responders, faith groups and businesses have taken it upon themselves to pitch in on the recovery effort.
A lieutenant and captain from the Amarillo Fire Department were deployed to Victoria on Friday to develop recovery plans alongside other members of the statewide All Hazards Incident Management Response Team. Four more AFD firefighters and a Borger Fire Department driver took the department’s new $300,000 truck down to Katy on Sunday morning to provide additional hurricane relief, though Capt. Larry Davis said he had little contact with the departed firefighters and did not know their specific tasks or when they would return.
“It was supposed to be up to seven days if needed initially, but we’ve been getting additional requests and with a possible joint effort that may turn into weeks,” Davis said. “(AFD’s) upper management is trying to see if we have the resources to send more people down or if we can start rotating them in and out.”
A local Texas Department of Transportation signals technician has latched onto a crew from Abilene now based in San Antonio, according to TxDOT spokesperson Sonja Gross. Two debris crews will head south as well Thursday morning, following director of operations Blair Johnson, and sign crews could join them as well.
City of Amarillo spokesperson Jesse Patton said utilities director Russell Grubbs also went to the disaster site as a member of the Texas Public Works Response Team.
Salvation Army of Amarillo sent Assistant Lt. Justin Vincent and thrift store manager Walter Roa to San Antonio, where they wait with a mobile kitchen three hours from Houston and Corpus Christi. They’re preparing to serve tens of thousands of people per day once roads into the cities become accessible, according to Maj. Harvey Johnson.
Red Salvation Army collection kettles now mark the counters of all 79 Toot ‘N Totum stores in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, thanks to company director of fuel supply and distribution centers Andrew Mitchell.
“He came to me and said, ‘We’re the Panhandle people. We have to do something. We can’t watch this happen,’” Johnson said.
Polk Street United Methodist Church is also accepting donations on behalf of the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church’s disaster relief fund.
The natural disaster hits close to the heart for Johnson, whose daughter and son-in-law — both Salvation Army employees as well — remain trapped with their five children inside their Houston home.
Several hundred West Texas A&M students have been impacted by the storm, including those who have to deal with flooded homes and those who have no way to get to Canyon or lack the electricity to access online classes, per vice president of student affairs Michael J. Knox.
Amarillo resident Robert Mayer’s brother, sister-in-law and 5-year-old niece also chose to remain in their house in Cypress, 30 miles northwest of downtown Houston. Water began seeping into their garage on Sunday night, and they awoke to 4 to 6 inches covering their downstairs floor on Monday morning.
The family has unsuccessfully tried to call boat rescue hotlines and continues to watch the water rise outside their windows. But with the upstairs dry and a hotel room booked outside of the storm zone, Mayer was confident enough in his brother’s safety to give him a little good-natured ribbing.
“The sport we were all always good at was swimming, and he just got a promotion to be an aquatics director down there. So I asked him, ‘if you’re a swim coach, why can’t you just swim out of there?’” Mayer said. “He’s not (laughing about it) right now. But I think he will later.”
As of Monday afternoon, Viva Media’s donation drive outside Market Street and the Walmart on South Coulter Street had netted five pallets of bottled water in addition to nonperishable food, diapers and cleaning supplies. DJ Tommy the Hacker will be at Sam’s Club tomorrow before a Plains Transportation tractor-trailer driver hauls the supplies to Houston on Wednesday.
Elmo’s Drive-In owners Kathy and Misty Zeutzius will be collecting similar items all week, then drive to a distribution site in Portland, across Nueces Bay from Corpus Christi.
“We’re all one state. Even if we’re 12 hours away, we’re still Texas proud,” Kathy Zeutzius said.