This first-person account of the on-the-ground work of Minuteman Disaster Response in Refugio, Texas after Hurricane Harvey was written by one of our volunteers.
As we turned onto Apple Lane on the outskirts of Refugio, we saw piles of tree branches lining each side of the street. These were the remnants of the hurricane the week before, piled along the curbs by homeowners. As we neared the end of the street, there was one house with no branches piled at the curb. Instead, they were strewn across the property.
A small army of volunteers, armed with chainsaws, exited their trucks and descended upon the property. The homeowner, an elderly woman who lived alone, had requested assistance in cleaning up her lawn, as she was physically unable to take on the massive job herself.
Men and women from across the state of Texas joined forces, and within a few hours this property had a pile of branches at the curb like all the others. Each of these men and women were unpaid volunteers, freely offering their time to serve people they had never met and would likely never see again. I recognized those from the Minuteman team, but there were several others I did not recognize. I soon learned that they were a group from First Baptist Church in San Saba, a four-hour drive from Refugio.
Thanks to the infrastructure Minuteman has in place to identify on-the-ground needs, the team was able to quickly plug in and lend their hands, bolstering the manpower Minuteman already had through their own network of volunteers. Though the property on Apple Lane had several downed trees, it only took a few hours for a dozen volunteers, a few chainsaws, and a skid loader to clear it.
One of the volunteers, Paula McGregor, had come to Refugio from San Saba with her husband, Greg. “There are twenty-one volunteers from our church,” Paula told me. “Some are here, some are in Houston. We saw a need and we came, rather than waiting on a large organization with a lot of red tape to deploy us. We’ve been on the ground for five days.”
After speaking with Paula, I approached the homeowner, an elderly woman with red hair. “Did you stay or leave?” I asked her.
“I stayed,” she replied.
“What was that like?” I implored.
“I’ll never do it again,” she said, laughing slightly. “My daughter lives in Colorado, and she said she would buy me a plane ticket if we ever have another hurricane come this way.”
Ms. Barbara had weathered several hurricanes, but from her perspective, Harvey was the worst. “I’ve always stayed.” she told me. “I remember when Carla hit in 1961; I was in high school. But it’s never been this bad. In the past, hurricanes would hit and then leave. This one hung around for four days.”
As we walked her property, now clear of most of the remnants of the storm, it was clear to see that her house was miraculously unaffected. “I’ll tell you what, we are awfully blessed,” Ms. Barbara said. “This could have been so much worse.”
After the volunteers finished their work and packed up, they gathered in a circle in the middle of Ms. Barbara’s driveway. They joined hands—which were mostly clad with work gloves—and Pastor Sam Crosby from First Baptist San Saba led the group in prayer. Others joined in, and when they finished Ms. Barbara was wiping tears from her eyes. She thanked the team for coming, commenting that it would have taken her days to clean up her yard herself.
Everyone parted ways shortly after, with the Minuteman team driving their trucks to the other end of Apple Lane to clean up the next property.