Photo credit to Jill Garrett - photo of volunteers rescuing people in boats in Cypress, TX in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey 2017, view from back

Humanists helping Hurricane Harvey victims


Humanist Disaster Recovery is now raising funds to assist those most in need in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. This storm surpassed all rainfall predictions, and according to the University of Wisconsin – Madison CIMSS, was a thousand year storm. South Texas has had three five-hundred-year flooding events in the last three years, including Harvey.

Harvey dropped about 27 trillion gallons of rainwater over Texas and Louisiana over the course of just six days. In South Texas, Harvey dumped 51 inches of rain, a record for landfalling tropical systems in the lower 48 states. To put that number in perspective, typically Houston gets an average of 49.77 inches of rainfall in a whole year.

According to CNN, about a million people have evacuated their homes, and approximately 72,000 people have been rescued. Rescue efforts are still underway, but the death toll as of Tuesday, 9/5, was over 60 and is expected to rise.

FEMA estimates that 450,000 people will apply for assistance. About 80% of Texans do not have flood insurance. There are currently 53,000 people living in temporary shelters. Approximately 200,000 people lost power as a result of the storm.

While the Houston Mayor's claim of "open for business" might seem overly optimistic, or even naive, to some Houston residents, Houston does seem to be turning a corner. The waters are receding, and the city is coming together to utilize their great resources to begin the recovery process. Houston's neighboring towns could use more interventions, however. As of right now, 33 counties in Texas have declared a federal disaster. In Beaumont, 135,000 people are without running water. The pump failures and subsequent water outage forced the closure of Beaumont's hospital, including emergency services. Patients are being evacuated by ambulance or helicopter to other hospitals. Authorities in Beaumont are unable to estimate when water services will return. In Port Arthur, people were unable to evacuate due to flooded roads, and those who fled flooded homes to a local shelter soon found themselves in thigh-deep water at the shelter. In nearby Crosby, a flooded chemical plant has already had one blast, and officials have warned more may come. The flooding cut power to their cooling systems, leaving certain chemical waste products vulnerable to combustion. (Photos above: White Oak Bayou in Houston as it flooded with Harvey rains.)                          

Harvey is estimated to be one of the costliest storms the U.S. has experienced, with eventual losses estimated between 75 and 125 billion. The toll of human suffering cannot be calculated. We have a few Beyond Belief Network teams in the area providing relief efforts in South Texas. We're grateful to the Humanists of Houston and the Corpus Christi Atheists, who are both assisting their communities, even in their own time of great need. Another BBN team, the SE Texas Atheists Helping the Homeless, expressed that they are anxious to help with relief and clean-up efforts, as well as get back to their usual service in their community, but the organizers have lost all of their personal belongings, as well as their donations stores.

Beyond Belief Network teams in surrounding areas are also assisting with relief efforts. South Texas Atheists for Reason in San Antonio are coordinating with local shelters, which are housing displaced storm victims, to assess needs. According to their Executive Director, Vicki Gettman, they have also started preparing "flood buckets" to assist with the clean-up efforts in South Texas, as well as volunteering at the Texas Diaper Bank. One STAR member, Jordan, when he learned many organizations were no longer accepting volunteers, opted to pack up his car and venture to South Texas to assist with the relief effort on his own, sometimes recruiting friends to work along the way. He's stopping in cities all through South Texas, helping wherever he is needed and has already completely cleared three houses of mud and debris. You can follow his journey on Facebook here.

Friend of FBB, Phil Session, Vice President and Volunteer Coordinator for Atheist Community of Austin, as well as Coordinator of Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless, has also been busy working on relief efforts for people affected by Harvey. At the San Antonio Food Bank's warehouse, Phil has been packing food, clothing and toiletry items for transport to both those sheltered at San Antonio's local Red Cross, as well as directly to affected areas. Through the Food Bank's program Haven for Hope Kitchen, he's been making and serving meals for sheltered residents, and prepping ingredients for meals to be distributed to other shelters. He's also disseminating information to members of his organizations about where to donate, as well as recruiting for and coordinating volunteer efforts to better serve South Texans. They are gathering donated blankets, toiletries, and other supplies to donate to the Center of Inquiry in Austin, where they will then be transported to affected areas. He's also reached out to AHH partner organization, Support the Girls – Austin, to acquire donated feminine products for their drive, as well.

All Hands Volunteers (AHV) was chosen as the first beneficiary for Hurricane Harvey Humanist Disaster Recovery (HDR) funding. AHV has a proven track record in assisting with disaster recovery in the Houston area, as the organization that worked with Fort Bend County residents affected by flooding in 2016. FBB has thoroughly vetted AHV, who received a HDRD grant last year for recovery efforts related to Louisiana flooding. We are currently vetting new potential beneficiary partners to expand our disaster relief efforts in the South Texas region. Please consider making a donation to help those affected by Harvey as they put their lives back together. 

FBB thanks the American Humanist Association for supporting this Humanist Disaster Recovery effort.

Feature photo courtesy of JIll Garrett Photography.