On Monday, April 18, 2016, the Greater Houston area was hit with some of the worst flooding it has seen since Tropical Storm Allison swept through the area in June 2001. A total of eight people have been confirmed dead and more than 1,000 homes were flooded as a result of the torrential rain waters that quickly wreaked havoc on the Greater Houston area in a short timeframe and left many people’s lives turned upside-down.
As a result of the flooding, President Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have approved federal disaster relief funding for Harris County as well as other counties impacted by the floods. Federal assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. Prior to the federal government assistance, however, several communities in the Greater Houston area had to do what they had to do in the meantime in order to simply survive the flood.
One of the worst hit areas in the Greater Houston area was in the Greenspoint area, located near 45 North Freeway and Beltway 8, where people found themselves without rescue boats and with no means to escape the flood waters without assistance. People in the area, the majority of which were African American, had to be creative and resourceful in order to escape the dangers of the flood waters and to assist those who had no ability to help themselves. People used refrigerators, containers and other things to transport children, senior citizens and others to safety.
While flooding does not discriminate as to who is impacted and is extremely diverse when it comes to who becomes a casualty, it was clear, however, that the Greenspoint area of Houston had been severely devastated and the needs in that community became far more pressing than other parts of the city. It was also clear that the response to their issues was not being addressed expediently.
Upon hearing that the people in the Greenspoint area were having challenges dealing with the aftermath of the unprecedented flooding, community activist Deric Muhammad and Houston-based rapper “Bun B” of UGK stepped up to the plate to assist Greenspoint residents and made a mass appeal to other Houston residents to assist the flood victims in the Greenspoint area.
Immediately, grassroots activists and other Houstonians joined in to assist these two brothers with their efforts. Being on the scene, however, they realized that the assistance needed for these Greenspoint flood victims were far greater than they could do alone, so they began to reach out to elected officials, community organizations, concerned citizens and media outlets such as the Houston Forward Times. The Forward Times volunteered its headquarters to become a South side drop off spot for donations, such as pampers, baby wipes, baby food, bottled water, new and gently-used clothing, non-perishable food items, canned goods, toiletries, blankets, shoes and other important items and began assisting the grassroots effort until more entities got involved.
Several individuals, groups and churches began to rise up and deal with the massive and overwhelming task of helping assist the families in the Greenspoint area affected by the flood. One of the first to step up was Pastor Jamail Johnson with The WORD Church, a local church located at 15403 Vantage Pkwy E. in the Greenspoint area. Pastor Johnson set up The WORD Church Disaster Relief Center and was immediately joined by his wife and congregation, where they collected donations, sorted donations, loaded up vehicles with donations, went to the apartment complexes to deliver donations and helped clean up the trash in the community.
A few people and media outlets tried to blame the newly elected mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, for the response time being too slow, as if it was his fault that more than 17 inches of rain decided to fall in the Greater Houston area in less than a 24-hour period, but Mayor Turner’s response to the flood victims all across Houston has been tremendous.
At a community meeting last Wednesday at Harvest Time Church, which also worked diligently to assist members of the Greenspoint community, Mayor Turner showed up and focused on the necessary steps the city of Houston had planned to move forward and address the issues.
“We’re (the City) not just here today and gone tomorrow,” said Turner. “There’s nobody that’s little. Nobody that’s big. Everybody’s important.”
Many individuals who found shelter at the MO Campbell Center, were relieved to know that Mayor Turner followed through on a promise he made to them to move them out of the shelter and into hotels and to work with them to resolve their future housing situations.
This past Friday, families were checked out of the MO Campbell Center and were transported by METRO buses and taxis to one of seven Greenspoint-area hotels that Mayor Turner had coordinated with to provide roughly 140 families with up to a week’s stay. The total cost of the hotel stay for those residents will be approximately $140,000 and is set to be financed by Mayor Turner’s recently established nonprofit – Greater Houston Storm Relief Fund. Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander donated $500,000 to the effort and Mayor Turner has stated that the nonprofit has taken in well over $1 million since inception.
Also this past Sunday morning, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Greenspoint residents were able to be transported via METRO buses to The WORD Church Disaster Relief Site from the central pickup location at Breckinridge Apartments, to receive much needed items for their care and recovery.
The response to the flooding in the Greater Houston area has been a herculean effort and has taken a lot of boots on the ground and tons of grassroots planning, organizing and execution.
In the aftermath of the storm and response, a community-based coalition of Houston area clergy, community organizations and community leaders have decided to come together to launch a community service relief initiative called “H-Town Cares” that will help provide city-wide relief and recovery assistance for flood victims across the Greater Houston and Harris County areas.
The ad-hoc group has been raising funds and collecting tangible items that will help meet the essential needs of families and individuals as they seek to put their lives back together.
Other elected officials have sought to get relief for flood victims also.
The latest report submitted to the Texas Department of Emergency Management pegs damage to public facilities in the City of Houston at $616,000 and estimates approximately 2700 single-family homes and multi-family units suffered some sort of damage in the Tax Day floods. These numbers do not include the cost of storm debris collection, which is currently estimated to be about $2 million.
On Thursday, April 21, 2016, Congressmen Al Green (TX-09) and Gene Green (TX-29) introduced H.R. 5025, the 2016 Tax Day Floods Supplemental Funding Act, which would appropriate $311 million for Army Corps flood control construction projects in the Greater Houston area. The legislation would fund the projects using supplemental appropriations until 2026, and return any funds not used on these projects to the U.S. Treasury.
If signed into law, the legislation would provide vital funding for the completion of flood control projects, such as the project to widen Brays Bayou. Completion of Army Corps flood control projects would provide much-needed relief to Houstonians, including but not limited to residents who suffered through the 2015 Memorial Day Flood and the recent 2016 Tax Day Floods.
There are still many challenges left to be dealt with for many of the Greenspoint residents impacted by the flood, but the Forward Times will continue to work with all members of the community to help them as they move forward on their road to recovery.