Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
Many parishes in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston were hard hit by Hurricane Harvey. Churches and other parish properties have been flooded many residents have had to brave the floodwaters and flee their homes. Many roads are still flooded and impassible; the extent of the loss of life and damage may not be known for weeks, as the waters in many places have yet to recede.
The Catholic Church in the region has taken a leading effort in helping victims of the hurricane, primarily through Catholic Charities and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Current efforts involve the establishment of temporary shelters and the providing of basic needs; long-term efforts include helping residents return to and rebuild their homes. For specific information on what the archdiocese is doing, visit http://www.archgh.org/news-data/latest-news/archdiocesan-hurricane-harvey-updates/, which includes links through which concerned Catholics may make a donation to relief efforts.
To offer a perspective on how flooding affected one of the archdiocese’s parishes, I spoke to Deacon Charles Turner at Mary Queen Catholic Church in Friendswood. Friendswood is a coastal city outside of Houston; the parish is staffed by the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette. Heavy rains and subsequent flooding of the parish began the evening of Saturday, Aug. 26. Deacon Turner has served as a facilities manager at the parish for seven years, and a deacon for nearly three.
What experience did you have in Hurricane Harvey?
We got less of its wind, but quite a bit of its rain. Before the hurricane hit we thought we were going to get 15 to 25 inches of rain. We’ve experienced that much before, and we weathered it fine. But, when I last checked we received 49.3 inches, at least twice as much as expected, and which I believe is a record. So, as people have been saying, how do you prepare for something that has never happened?
Did you have any damage to the parish buildings?
We have several buildings on the property, including a retreat house. The retreat house is flooded with 2 feet of water, so it’s in bad shape. The other buildings have had roof leaks, and things like that.
We want to begin the cleanup, but we have to wait until the waters recede, which may be Thursday or Friday. It’s going to take several weeks to clean up, maybe two months.
What is the condition of the Friendswood community?
It’s terrible. Many of our parishioners have lost their entire homes and everything in them, and their vehicles as well. Friendswood has lots of creeks in every direction which have overflowed their banks. If you want to cross a road, you’ll find it underwater.
I was very blessed. My neighborhood did get street flooding, but the water stopped 3 feet short of my house.
What is the parish doing to respond?
The City of Friendswood has asked us to hold off providing services temporarily because so many of our roads are blocked due to the flooding. There is no way for people to get to us yet for help. We did house some evacuees for three hours, but they were taken to a Red Cross location.
As things clear, we’ll be a food distribution site for the county, and, Catholic Charities will be giving us gift cards which people may redeem for items at local stores. In the upcoming days, our parish will focus on helping people get the food they need and supplies which they can use to clean up.
Any other thoughts?
(Choked up) There are many people in the Galveston-Houston area who have lost everything. It is heartbreaking to see. I hate the feeling of despair I’m experiencing, but I think we’ll be suffering from the aftermath of this tragedy into the New Year. It’s important to have hope, though. I’m confident that our people will come together and help one another and we’ll pull through.