This hurricane season brought some of the most destructive natural disasters in US history. More than 70 people have died as a result of hurricane Harvey and at an estimated cost of nearly $200 billion, it was almost as expensive as hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans back in 2005.
While it may be almost as destructive as Katrina, the people affected by Harvey have several advantages that play in their favor to potentially expedite the recovery of the Houston area. Since Harvey struck, governmental action has been much quicker compared to Katrina, resulting in the passage of a bill providing $15 billion in aid to the victims of the disaster, as well as the much larger participation and response of FEMA and other organizations.
Union College’s IRR program, operating through Adventist Community Services (ACS) is one such organization. Union sent 22 student volunteers for a week-long trip to Port Arthur, a city of around 45,000 about 80 miles east of Houston.
“We got a call from an individual within ACS,” says Rick Young, Director of IRR. “[This individual] says the North American Division is getting numerous requests for help and aid from smaller cities and towns outside of Houston that they can’t respond to.” This is where smaller volunteer groups, such as Union’s IRR program, come in.
Caleb Shetler, junior IRR major, was part of the response team that helped coordinate the logistics of the trip to Port Arthur.
“I was part of a team here in IRR that we put together once we got the call to respond down there [Port Arthur],” he says. Since they were a self-contained team, meaning they don’t rely on anyone once they arrive, they needed to prepare everything ahead of time, in order to handle any problem that might arise. “We have to create a plan for potential hazards or problems, as well as the appropriate solutions.”
Upon returning from the devastated area, he had this to add, “... Everyone had one thing in common, strength. These Texans were so incredibly strong, caring for us as much as we cared for them. We all experienced something special this week, it was an honor to stand side by side with Texas for the time we were down there.”
While the immediate relief and rescue process is daunting on its own, the reconstruction that follows may determine the near-term fate of the city. Before Katrina struck, the population of New Orleans was 455,188. As of 2016, the city has yet to return to its pre-Katrina population.
One of the unfortunate consequences of such a large-scale evacuation is that many inhabitants may choose to never return. While Houston, as the nation’s 4th largest city, is in a better position than many, there’s always the possibility that Harvey may leave permanent scars on the city.
Fortunately, there’s already talk that Houston and the surrounding areas may actually benefit in the long term from the huge building opportunities that will occur. Since Texas, and the Houston area in general, is an important hub for global trade and oil exports, many economists expect Texas, and America at large, to make a quick recovery from this devastating storm.
Jesse Shoghi is a junior studying computing.