Cities, neighborhoods, homes and lives are still being rebuilt since Hurricane Harvey hit six months ago. When the storm came, one community in East Texas was still trying to rebuild from a previous disaster.
Back in 2016, flood waters rose and the Sabine River seemed to swallow an entire community. There’s new hope for Deweyville, a rural town near the Louisiana border. TEAM Rochester is a caravan of more than 34 people representing 60 churches and nonprofits. They are on their way from Minnesota with the goal of helping the community continue their rebuilding efforts.
Charles Burchett, the pastor at First Baptist Church of Kirbyville, near Deweyville, is leading the preparations for the caravan’s arrival after witnessing the damage from the flood.
“I want to give you a word picture,” he says. “Most people either have visited Niagara Falls or they’ve seen it on television. When the Toledo Bend Dam gates were opened the river flowed at almost three times the amount of Niagara Falls.”
The flood left the town devastated.
“The water not only was rising but it was rushing,” Burchett says. “In most places it was at least five feet deep. Some places along the river it was probably 15 to 17 feet deep.”
Newton County is one of the poorest counties in Texas. Many people in the community come from generations of poverty and they were not financially prepared for this kind of disaster. Many didn’t have flood insurance or any insurance at all. The younger families have been able to take on extra jobs and can do a lot of their home repairs themselves. That’s why aid has been focused on the elderly and disabled.
“We are amazingly blessed to have this group from Minnesota,” Burchett says. “They send me lists of names of people who are coming, the skills of the people who are coming, the tools that they are bringing as they come. Then in addition to that they’re sending resources to buy sheet rock, and to buy insulation.”
FEMA is also working in the area but Burchett has seen federal guidelines and regulations slow down government aid.
“I have never had a negative experience with FEMA,” Burchett says. “But the federal government is huge, nothing moves fast. Jesus and the church can move so much faster.”
The recovery has been an emotional experience for everyone involved. Burchett remembers when the first Minnesota group arrived. They partnered with the Salvation Army to set up a voucher program to help families get materials to rebuild their homes.
“Family after family would come,” he says. “All of my volunteers would say, ‘These people are coming in and they’re crying when the vouchers are put in their hand.’”
For these families this was one of the first real signs that their 24 months of flood and misery were finally coming to an end.
“They finally have something physically in their hand,” Burchett says. “It was one family after another coming into our building with tears of joy that they actually have real help coming.”
Written by Jeremy Steen