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The Voice of the Black Community

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Personal account of Hurricane Harvey disaster relief and recovery
Charlotte volunteers journey and journal
Published Thursday, October 19, 2017 10:34 am
by Ken Koontz

Sam Alston of Charlotte sorts cases of wet supplies left uncovered in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Alston and fellow Charlotte resident Ken Koontz drove 1,000 miles to deliver supplies and join recovery efforts in Port Arthur, Texas.

When Sam Alston and I arrived in Port Arthur, Texas earlier this month to do some volunteer hurricane recovery work, our pictures show only a very small fraction of the homes, businesses and churches destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

The southeast Texas region commonly known as The Golden Triangle because of its oil refineries and chemical plants was devastated by the storm. Of the three main area cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, the Port City was hit hardest. The heavy lifting of recovery has begun after the initial assessments of work to be done took place during our trip. The initial expectation of heavy demolition and reconstruction was supplanted with the start of the assessment phase.

I’m a retired veteran of more than 50 years in broadcast journalism, media and communication. Alston is a retired FBI agent with nearly 30 years of combined military service and Bureau tenure. We put our collective skills to work with Assessment Team leaders to determine what all needed to be done to the homes, businesses and churches that sought their help. Our personal passions for and their professional skills derived from their career experiences were immediately called upon and put to good use.

I grabbed my camera, pen and paper to capture the stories of their probes and individuals impacted by the disaster. Alston quickly launched his skills to gather facts about the personal tragedies and how the Assessment Team would evaluate and implement its demolition and reconstruction strategy to help make victims whole again.

Alston and I originally planned to join a team of volunteers from our Charlotte church going to Beaumont on a volunteer recovery mission. That plan was postponed until later this month as the church seeks to assemble up to 40 volunteers with carpentry skills, strong backs and willing to work hard for four days to make the trip as the team implements its actual construction phase. Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Beaumont is set up to host the Charlotte team providing housing, meals and showers. While also providing a major shelter for victims in that initial hurricane hit, Antioch also assisted efforts in Port Arthur. Through that connection, we were referred to Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Port Arthur.

Mount Sinai’s Senior Pastor, the Rev. Randy Vaughn, has been a leader in the volunteer recovery campaign. He notes that scores of churches and relief organizations have flooded his church’s relief efforts with volunteers, pallets of goods and supplies by the truckloads and storage area facilities that subsequently reached capacity with no or very limited other storage options. That meant the primary need for help became volunteer workers. And the call is still being answered.

Despite his church’s trip postponement, Alston committed to go anyway. I got word of it and joined him. Not knowing each other among the estimated 9,000 members of their church, we forged a bond as we made the 1,000-mile drive in a rented minivan loaded with relief supplies sent from our church. We agreed that this is one of the many ways Christian mission works. And for us, it created a new bond of brotherhood.

For three days in Port Arthur, we joined assessment team leader Billy Filer in identifying homeowners and others for our recovery efforts. There were hundreds of families signing on for help.

The experienced professionals in the recovery campaign comes from the National Baptist Convention’s Laymen’s Disaster Team, headed by Mac Arthur McGriggs of Biloxi, Mississippi, where such recovery work is commonplace virtually every hurricane season. McGriggs is a retired Air Force construction engineer who went into building churches. He launched headlong into disaster recovery in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which virtually destroyed his home area of Biloxi in 2005. McGriggs has been a pioneer in establishing this special disaster team for the national church group. His colleague in the effort is Arthur “Billy” Morgan, a retired chief clerk for export/import at the Port of Gulfport, Mississippi.

McGriggs and Morgan came to Port Arthur to lend professional expertise in the assessment phase of Mount Sinai’s recovery campaign. “This is a long term effort,” Vaughn said. “For many families, they won’t be able to rebuild or repair because new city ordinance restricts new construction. The ordinance is also said to forbid repairs and requires a rebuild if a home is assessed to be at least 50 percent damaged. And that rebuild is also said to require that the structure/dwelling be done with floor being a minimum five feet above ground.”

Alston and I experienced deplorable circumstances for many residents. And for many residents, they shake their heads and try to hold back tears in despair as they consider their plight to be “hopeless.” And for yet others, they vow to overcome, even if the reality tells them otherwise.

Vaughn and I share friendship that dates back to our high school years in Beaumont. Arriving on the scene of an assessment, Vaughn proclaimed in jest where I was documenting the scene in pictures, “This brother has a camera. He needs a hammer!”

The hammers are coming by the busloads. The camera tells the stories of what they will face.

Charlotte resident Ken Koontz is a Beaumont, Texas native.



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