Sleeves Up, Hearts Open, All In

Experiencing Harvey through the eyes of a volunteer

Red Cross volunteer Heather Shampine, Senior Project Manager of Emergency Planning with National Grid, spent two weeks in Texas responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Heather wrote a two-part blog entry for the American Red Cross describing what it’s like to respond to a massive disaster, how she made new friends from across the Red Cross, and what it’s like to experience life-changing events while helping people profoundly affected by the flood waters brought by Hurricane Harvey. 

September 15, 2017:

As I penned the story of the first half of my Houston experience, I was working at the George R. Brown Convention Center, set up as a then 2,000-bed shelter. About midway through my Texas deployment, after emailing a few leads to inquire if they needed additional help in other areas, I was able to move into the damage assessment role. This task required us to deploy in 2 or 3-person teams from the Red Cross HQ in Houston out to the various affected outlying communities to assess the degree of damage the flooding had done to homes. This provided the first real, up-close view of the devastating effects of Harvey. I was immediately overwhelmed at the sight of street upon street lined with piles of debris. The entire contents of homes – beds, clothes, stuffed animals, furniture, photos, carpets, and heirlooms- were laid out for a huge dump truck and claw to pick up. Unfortunately, the debris had a very distinct odor much like the city dump or a trash truck. That smell was everywhere. It was very sad to see people who were already very impoverished who had so little to begin with, who had now lost everything, not knowing what they would do next. On the other end, I also saw a neighborhood of homes that were new, large, and likely very expensive, all destroyed. There were people who opined they were “not so bad off as they had the money” to recover. One couple we encountered proved that assumption to be so very untrue. They had just bought their three-year-old house and had used their life savings to do so. The husband, nearly in tears, reminisced about how happy they were in their home, that at Christmas time it would still be in shambles. They were heartbroken. Hugs were given that day.

In as much as the scenes I encountered neighborhood after neighbored were sad, as I had at the shelter, I saw many examples of the resiliency and the fantastic attitude the people of Houston and Eastern Texas had. It blew me away and recharged me over and over again. So many people just refused to be down, said they’d get through it somehow, and many leaned on their faith to get them by and move them forward.

Just before I left Houston to come back home (and I was very homesick by then!) I bought a coffee cup and magnet at the airport to remember Houston by. But, what I will always remember and what will stick with me, is the incredible spirit of the people I met – that of my fellow Red Cross volunteers, but mostly of the courageous, kind, and tough people that Harvey just couldn’t keep down.