On Friday, August 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Southern Texas as a Category 4 storm, leaving in its wake unprecedented damage and chaos. To make matters worse, the storm lingered around for days, dumping almost 52-inches of rain, breaking a 50-year record for tropical cyclone rainfall measured in a single place in the US.
The torrential downpour has caused extensive flooding in Houston, forcing more than 32,000 residents into shelters. Thousands more have moved in with friends and relatives. Flooding on the Neches River has damaged the nearby Beaumont city’s water utility system, leaving its 120,000 residents with no running water. Things are no better in Port Arthur, where all of the town’s 20,000 residences have sustained water damage.
The only silver lining is that disasters like these seem to unite people, making them forget all their differences and grudges, at least for a short period of time. While the number of organizations and individuals that have gone all out to assist the victims of Hurricane Harvey are too numerous to list, here are some highlights of the outpouring of support that has made headlines this past week.
A week ago, on Sunday, August 27, NFL player JJ Watt set up a crowdfunding page with a goal to raise $200,000. As of September 3, the football defensive end for the Houston Texans has garnered over $18 million, including a million from television talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, and the donations keep pouring in. The thrilled football star wants to ensure the money is used where needed, saying, “We’re trying to make sure it goes directly to the people. So our first wave of operation is we’ll have nine semi-trucks going out there and my teammates and I will go straight into the communities and hand stuff out there. And then beyond that, it's about making sure to do it right. … So I want to make sure I take the time to do it right, for the people who donated and for all the people of Houston.”
On September 1, tech billionaire Michael Dell and his wife, Susan, launched the Rebuild Texas Fund, to assist with immediate relief efforts, as well as long-term recovery and rebuilding. In addition to a $17 million starting contribution, the philanthropists have pledged to add $1 for every $2 donated for the first $36 million raised.
Corporations are also striving to alleviate the suffering Harvey caused. Japanese car manufacturer Toyota is donating pre-owned vehicles to assist in relocating people and belongings. Healthcare company Abbot, will be donating up to $100,000 worth of medical and nutrition products, while Coca-Cola has given away 25,000 cases of water, milk, and other beverages, with more to come in the days ahead. To assist in the cleanup efforts and ensure affected areas have access to proper supplies, Home Depot plans to dispatch its Team Depot volunteer members. Even Mexico, which shares a border with Texas, has offered to send in rescue troops, food, water, medicine and portable showers.
Ordinary individuals are not shying away from helping either. On Monday, August 28, Houston resident Jim McIngvale, or “Mattress Mack,” who owns and operates the Gallery Furniture retail chain of stores, announced on social media that he was turning his two 100,000 square-foot flood-proof warehouses into shelters. By evening, over 400 displaced residents had taken up his generous offer, and many still remain there.
When asked if he is concerned about ruining the new bedroom sets, recliners, mattresses and other furniture that are being used by those living there, the philanthropist quipped, "We’ll have a Harvey floor model sale, or something. I’ll come up with some shtick." He then added, "These people are nice. They’re taking care of the furniture. Furniture’s made to be sat on, slept on, laid on, whatever. It's just a product. It ain't gonna hurt it."
This is not the first time “Mattress Mack” has stepped up to help those in need. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the big-hearted man dispatched his furniture trucks to evacuate over 200 residents and extended them similar hospitality.
Country music singer-songwriter Miranda Lambert is focusing her efforts on the four-legged victims of the disaster. Her Muttnation Foundation has taken in more than 100 dogs from Houston-area animal shelters and is housing them until they can return to their previous homes or find a new one.
There are also many unsung heroes that are putting their lives at stake to help neighbors and even total strangers. After discovering an elderly man trapped inside the cabin of his truck, local residents made a human chain through the dangerous water to drag him to safety. A CNN correspondent abandoned his live broadcast to rescue a man trapped in a flooded ravine. The Cajun Navy, a volunteer rescue group created during Hurricane Katrina, has also saved hundreds of stranded Texas residents.
While there is not much anyone could have done to prevent the loss and destruction in Texas, people across the US are determined to do everything they can to help its residents recover. As JJ Watts succinctly puts it, “The most difficult times bring out the best in humanity!”