After Hurricane Harvey finished ravaging the Texas gulf coastline, a three-person team from The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services program in Kansas City was deployed to offer aid.
Struck by the images of devastation, the team – made up of Divisional Social Services Director Joyce Schau, Captain Gabriela Rangel of the Westport Temple Corps and Topeka Corps Major Brian Burkett – immediately volunteered to go to Texas to help local storm victims through their recovery. The needs were far-reaching, ranging from emergency assistance and feeding services to emotional and spiritual care.
“I was a little nervous going down because this was my first national deployment,” said Schau, who is based in Kansas City, Mo. “As many local disasters as we’ve dealt with in this division, this was my first time actually responding to a national disaster.”
Rangel said no one ever knows what to expect when you respond to the site of a major disaster.
“You have expectations of what you’re going to see, but many times, you’re wrong. They have personalities. Some are bigger bullies than others, so they will cause different damage than expected,” she said of the natural disasters.
In Victoria, Texas, residents who chose to ride out the storm experienced major flood and wind damage, which Schau likened to the tornado destruction she’s seen in the past. As a result, most homes in the area were without electricity and water for weeks, as well as other basic infrastructure.
Rangel and Schau primarily assisted with canteen feeding operations in the area, serving food rations for locals and making sure storm victims had a balance in the nutrition. For over a week, they partnered with Operation BBQ Relief, a disaster relief organization, to provide Texans with chicken, brisket and pulled pork.
Other members drove up to 60 miles to surrounding small towns to help make contact with stranded locals, since numerous roads were closed.
“We realized there was really no communication, because there was no means,” said Rangel. “Many small towns had not had any contact to the outside because of closures. There was no electricity. There was no Internet. They were stranded. My partners helped them in whatever way they could – bringing them water and cases of Gatorade.”
While countless people had lost their homes, and other were living without basic necessities, Schau said she was touched by their outlook in the wake of destruction.
“The strength and resolve of the people that we visited with was a big surprise to me personally,” she said. “They were very determined and in control of their response and had an attitude of, ‘Thank you so much for what you’re doing. I appreciate you being here. It means the world that you’re here to help us, but we’re going to be OK.’”
Their resilience seems especially astounding when mobile homes were physically split in two and houses demolished beyond repair.
On one excursion, The Salvation Army team encountered Victoria residents traveling back to town from Dallas, where they had evacuated to before the storm.
“Even though they were understandably emotionally vulnerable, they were thanking God because it could have been worse,” Rangel said. “We had the privilege of praying for them while they stopped at our canteen to get something to eat before they saw whatever was left of their homes.”
In today’s social media-driven world, one memory that has stuck with Rangel is the voice of a woman whose home was in desperate need of repair. The woman said she wished that people would stop taking pictures of her house and posting it on Facebook, as if it was an attraction to “amuse other people.”
“It spoke to my heart because we see those images all over the Internet, and it reminds me that it’s a big deal for these people,” Rangel said. “We have to do as much as we can to preserve their dignity. To see their stuff out in the street, for everyone to see, isn’t right. If you have the time to take a picture, you have the time to come and help us scrub walls or take out the trash.”
The Emergency Disaster Services Team has since returned, but their compassion and desire to help has remained asDelete strong as ever. A week after she returned, Rangel saw images of an earthquake that devastated her hometown of Mexico City. She immediately reached back out to Salvation Army leadership to offer her assistance.
“I think disasters are a part of us. They’re part of our world,” she said. “I do fear them, but not in the sense of being terrorized or not knowing what to do. You have to move. I became a Salvation Army officer and that gives me the chance to take my experiences and turn them into good. I think we should all look at it that way.” #StoriesOfHope