Monday, September 15, 2008

I Am A Hurricane Refugee

Attached below is an email report that I sent to my manager at LifeWay in Nashville last night. I will post it here as a way to convey our current personal status and plans during a challenging time of communication.

We plan to stay with my parents in Northeast Texas this week and then travel next week to Baton Rouge and New Orleans making church visits where they now have power following Hurricane Gustav. We hope to travel back home to Spring on Friday, September 26th with the anticipation that we will have electricity by then.

Regards to all,



Jeanie and I left the Houston area on Thursday and went to my parents’ house in Paris which is in Northeast Texas about 100 miles northeast of Dallas. We experienced Ike there but it was pretty mild in comparison to Houston. We had about 4" of rain and 35-40mph winds. The eye of the storm passed right over us. Terry and Lynda Martinaz and his parents left Friday morning and went to Dallas. Joe and Lynn Keith stayed at their home in Shenandoah (The Woodlands) to weather the storm.

Jeanie and I left this morning (Sunday) at 7:00am to return to our house in Spring which is located 3 miles east across I-45 from The Woodlands. We wanted to check for damage and clean out our refrigerator/freezers before they got horribly bad. We also took a pick-up truck load of bottled water, bags of ice, and cans of gasoline to our neighbors, as well as to Joe and Lynn Keith. Arriving at noon, we took care of our personal stuff and visited with our neighbors and in about 3 hours we left to drive back to Paris arriving about 9:30pm tonight. Terry and Lynda were planning to do the same thing tomorrow (Monday).

Electrical power is out as far north of Houston as Madisonville which is 100 miles. We began seeing wind damage as far north as Centerville which is 120 miles. Centerville is the last place to get gas north of Houston because of no electricity. Lots of families are on the road both leaving and returning to Houston. Lots of disaster relief workers, equipment, and supplies are also on the road on their way into Houston. Traffic is heavy on I-45 but is moving fine.

In The Woodlands/Conroe area there were a few stores open such as HEB and Krogers, a Target, a Home Depot, a Lowes, and about 3 gas stations were pumping gas using generators. Lines of people were very, very long everywhere. Ice was also being distributed from a local football stadium and the line of cars there was a few miles long.

Most of the national media is covering the devastation down along coast, especially in Galveston, and the heavy damage in downtown Houston. Joe and Lynn’s neighborhood in Shenandoah (The Woodlands) was the worst we saw. It’s a more established area with older, mature oak and pine trees. They are down everywhere and on top of everything. When we got out of our truck at Joe’s all we could hear was the sound of generators and chain saws. Joe and Lynn’s place is covered with debris. Her car got hit with the top of a pine tree and has moderate damage. Their house looks OK. When we arrived they were in their front yard raking debris and were in good spirits. Joe was enjoying talking on his cell phone to those calling to check on them, but that’s Joe!

After leaving some ice with Joe and Lynn we headed toward our place. We found the front part of our subdivision pretty beat up with trees down on several houses but not as bad as in Joe’s neighborhood. Farther back in the subdivision where we live the damage was not as bad. Most everybody was outside because it was cooler outside than inside, were busy cleaning up their yards, and visiting with neighbors. There too the outdoor sounds were of generators, children playing, and adults talking about the storm and when the power might be back up. The reports are that South Montgomery County will be without power for 3-4 weeks.

Our house was not visibly damaged; the window screens didn’t even blow off! Leaves are plastered on everything and the yard was covered in tree debris. Actually, some of our neighbors had already cleared limbs and raked our front yard for us and piled it next to the street. From my first inspection I only saw 2-3 roof shingles in the yard and some small limb damage in our trees. The largest limb I could see broken is about the size of my wrist. One next door neighbor had a fairly large oak tree blow down across their back patio/porch but it is not apparently causing other problems because as we went to tell them goodbye they were sitting under it on their patio furniture! In our area lots of wooden fences were blown down, but unfortunately our fence was still standing. It has needed to be replaced for a while. And that’s about it immediately around our house. We had gotten 13” of rain and 90-100 mph winds.

So, after making the rounds up and down the block handing out ice, water, and gasoline for generators, we hugged some necks and cleaned out our refrigerator/freezers before taking off back to Paris to await news as to when the electrical power will be back on. Meanwhile, we will hang out at my parents’ house until somebody can’t stand it any longer.

Our neighbors were glad to see us, and were most thankful for the supplies we had brought them. Their spirits were lifted from receiving the supplies and also to hear the news we brought them from the “outside world”. We had brought them a few moments of help and hope and they were as grateful as we were that everyone was safe. When I asked one neighbor lady how she was holding up she just burst out crying and hugged me. She had been thru a couple of pretty rough days and I guess she had to finally let it out. It ended up being a very long but good day as well as an opportunity to meet some of our neighbors we had not met before.

We are indeed very fortunate, grateful, and blessed!!!

I have been tracking reports on the impact from Gustav in Louisiana thru the national media, Baptist Press, Louisiana Baptist Convention website, state newspapers, various church websites, NOBTS website, and several first and second hand emails I have been able to get. Due to the large areas of power outages phone service and email capabilities have been very spotty if not impossible. The majority of emails I have sent to churches and church leaders in Louisiana have not been delivered due to file servers still being down. Of the 52 churches that I visit in Central or South Louisiana I believe that every one of them has been negatively impacted, primarily due to power outages. I know that several of them have been established and utilized as disaster relief distribution centers or feeding points. Churches in the coastal areas of South Louisiana have experienced water and wind damage. I have no access to detailed information or direct reports of damage to church facilities other than what I have been reading in Baptist Press. I just don’t know. I am eager to get over there to begin visiting church leaders but I am waiting until the availability of hotel rooms and gasoline become more normalized.

Of the 86 churches I visit in Texas I believe all but perhaps 10 up in the Waco area have been negatively impacted by Ike. On Saturday early afternoon I found 20 churches across South Houston and toward Beaumont/Orange that had posted on their websites that they had either changed or canceled their weekend schedules. Most of the coastal area from Galveston to Beaumont had been under a mandatory evacuation as well as low areas south of Houston such as Alvin, Pearland, Friendswood and I think over thru LaPorte, Deer Park, and Baytown. On Saturday evening I called a dozen MEs on their cell phones across south Houston and Souteast Texas and mostly could only leave messages for them. I suspect cell phone towers were down. I was only able to reach a few. Tom Gamble, ME at FBC Pasadena reported only minor damage at their church and they were without power. Steve Byrd, ME at Memorial Pasadena reported only minor damage at their church and they were without power. Brad Williamson, ME at South Main Pasadena reported some water damage in their church due to wind damage on the roof and they were without power. Charles Draper, ME at Nassau Bay Clear Lake reported no damage but they were without power. Actually, this is one of the churches I was most worried about because they are located on NASA Road 1 a short distance from the NASA Space Center which is an area that sustained heavy wind damage and flooding. Jack Hall, Music Minister at Second Baytown reported flooding in the area but no damage to the church but they were without power. He also reported that both First and Second Highlands north of Baytown had roof damage. Joe Keith reports that he received an email from a friend in Alvin reporting the roof was blown off South Park Alvin. I go as far south as Texas City (only 20 miles from Galveston), over to League City, Friendswood, Pearland, and Alvin. Unfortunately, I do not yet have a very complete report on damage from those areas and they are pretty far south and close to bayou areas that were anticipating flooding. This morning (Sunday) while driving back to Houston I made phone calls to church offices between 9:15 and 10:00am. I called 43 churches all along the coast from South Houston all the way over to Orange and up into East Texas just to see what I would find. I got one church to answer the phone. The janitor at FBC Vidor (20 miles east of Beaumont) was alone at the church answering the phone. Most church phones just rang and rang. A few had recorded messages. I could tell by the phone tone that some lines were out of service. I’m not sure what all my calls mean except maybe that nobody was at church in Southeast Texas today and/or the phone lines and cell phone towers are a scrambled mess right now. I am eager too to get around to check on these churches and church leaders but it’s going to take a while. Many areas in Houston and thru Houston have closed off access and will for a while, and especially south of Houston. Harris County which takes in all of the Houston area will be without power in some areas possibly for up to 4 weeks according to the spokesman for the primary electrical provider for the county.

More as I know it.

Pat Ford
Church Consultant (Texas/Louisiana)
Church Relations & Consulting
LifeWay Christian Resources

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