Houston, the largest city in Texas and the 4th in the United States has endured floods since its founding in 1836, but in August 2017, an entire year’s worth of rain fell on the greater Houston area within less than a week.
Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall near the Texas Gulf Coast on August 25, 2017, and Houston felt its effects immediately. The hurricane stalled briefly, then moved east slowly as a tropical storm, making its final landfall in Louisiana on August 30.
It was those five days of slow movement and relentless rain, up to 52 inches in some areas, that caused catastrophic flooding in Texas, predominantly in Houston and surrounding counties.
Tzu Chi started mobilizing aid while the storm was still wreaking havoc across Texas. Hurricane Harvey would soon be described as one of the worst weather disasters in U.S. history, the cost of damages estimated to be as high as $180 billion.
We will provide updates about our ongoing disaster relief here. And since continual support for a mission of this scale is vital, please join hands with us to help Texans recover.
Summary of Relief Effort
(Data as of November 18th)
Packages of Instant Rice
News from Port Arthur Independent School District – October 9, 2017
The bamboo bank is at the root of Tzu Chi’s story, as the foundation began by collecting a few cents daily donated by people giving with the loving intention to help those in need. Until this day, we hand out bamboo banks at our disaster aid distributions and during all of our activities, always wishing to inspire love and the spirit of daily giving.
That said, the news we received from Port Arthur Independent School District is extremely special to everyone at Tzu Chi. When we offered disaster relief in the city, our distribution was held at Memorial High School, and it appears that the event had a meaningful impact that went beyond the aid provided.
On October 9, Dr. Mark Porterie, Superintendent of Schools, wrote to inform us that bamboo banks had been provided to every school campus in the Port Arthur Independent School District.
We are overjoyed to learn that our distribution has inspired this movement of giving and generosity within the entire school district, and touched by Dr. Porterie’s observation:
Beyond the financial aid we provide, offering moral support and emotional relief during times of great duress is equally important, because that is what opens the gates to hope, and hope will light the way and strengthen those impacted along the road to full recovery after a disaster.
Port Arthur Honors our Disaster Relief in the City – October 6, 2017
We are humbled by this appreciation, and grateful that we were able to distribute a total of $687,600 in Port Arthur, benefitting 1,284 families (4,199 people), who were also offered free medical and dental care during our distribution.
As always, we share this tribute with all the people who support Tzu Chi Relief. It is because of your love and care that all this is possible. Thank you.
Follow-Up Distribution in Beaumont – October 1, 2017
On October 1, three weeks after our first distribution served this city that was heavily impacted by flooding, we held a follow-up event in Beaumont. Approximately 120 volunteers from across the United States had converged here in Texas to participate, each thankful for the opportunity to help others in their time of need.
One young woman, a senior at Fordham University in New York City, had been volunteering with Tzu Chi for three years, and was grateful for the enriching experience.
Wanting to make sure as many people as possible would attend, over 2,000 invitation letters had been sent to local residents.
Despite the hardship they were enduring, some aid recipients found spiritual solace, something beyond monetary relief. When Stephanie Palmer received our invitation letter, this wife of a retired first-responder was overjoyed, eager to express her gratitude for the relief Tzu Chi has offered after previous disasters in the USA.
This 30th disaster relief distribution following Hurricane Harvey in Texas concludes our emergency aid mission, but more assistance will follow. Watch for our updates.
Distribution in Port Arthur – September 30, 2017
Port Arthur was indeed hit hard by the Harvey floods, with about 70% of houses badly damaged. Some residents benefitted from our aid when we held an initial distribution serving Port Arthur and Beaumont on September 9, but two weeks later, with the collaboration of local authorities, the distribution we held at Memorial High School on September 30 would help many more families.
In addition to providing financial aid, volunteer doctors were also on hand offering free medical check-ups, dental care, and acupuncture treatments to help relieve people’s stress – something not to be ignored, as Dr. Chang Lai, who was in Port Arthur all the way from Hawaii, explained:
That stress can cause muscle aches and joint pain to start, but it can also aggravate pre-existing conditions and create other health problems.
The free medical care we provided in Port Arthur helped relieve the excessive anxiety from Hurricane Harvey’s wrath, while we offered immediate financial relief. During the distribution, $680,600 in cash cards was distributed, benefitting 1,263 families (4,145 individuals).
Distribution in the Mesa Drive Neighborhood of Houston – September 29, 2017
There is a touching and remarkable backstory to how our large-scale disaster relief distribution in the Mesa Drive neighborhood of Houston came to be, one which demonstrates the power of perseverance, faith, and community.
There is a touching and remarkable backstory to how our large-scale disaster relief distribution in the Mesa Drive neighborhood of Houston came to be, one which demonstrates the power of perseverance, faith, and community.
This neighborhood, appraised to be among the ten most dangerous in Houston by some home security organizations, was severely impacted by Hurricane Harvey, with 99% of the homes sustaining major flood damage. However, with most residents here being low-income families, many were unable to leave and had no choice but to remain in their houses.
Since the American Red Cross had informed our volunteers that they were unable to provide assistance in this area, Stephen Huang, the Executive Director of Global Tzu Chi Volunteers visited the community to personally assess the situation after Harvey and confirmed that people were in desperate need of help.
Stephen, who was on his way to Mexico with Tzu Chi’s earthquake disaster assessment team, requested that Martin Kuo, another lead volunteer, follow-up. Martin began by driving through the neighborhood …
But despite the best intentions, he was uncertain about how to proceed in organizing a disaster relief distribution for the residents around Mesa Drive, since it would demand a different approach.
Without the usual protocol that relies on assistance from local authorities, some ingenuity was needed, so Martin started going from house to house himself to see who needed help.
And then, providence stepped in when he came across Eduardo Luna, a young man who lived in the area and was helping clean-up in the homes of his neighbors.
Soon enough, that team set out and the Police Captain assured us that, “Anything you need, just let us know.”
Finally, social media came into play to really help get the word out to people in the pertinent Houston zip code areas.
Once the distribution took place on September 29, it was nothing short of a miracle for many residents in the Mesa Drive area who had previously felt forgotten.
That’s the incredible power of love, collaboration, and not giving up. During the distribution on September 29, we distributed $951,800 of immediate relief to 1,341 households, comprising 5,455 individuals.
We are immensely grateful to the Grace Catholic Church for allowing us to hold our distribution there, although they had also suffered severe flood damage; to the local police department for all their support and assistance; and to members of the community in Mesa Drive, especially Eduardo Luna who was instrumental in making this disaster aid mission reach its goal of delivering love and care.
Follow-Up Distribution in Wharton – September 28, 2017
We held a follow-up disaster relief distribution on September 28 in Wharton, a small city 50 miles Southwest of Downtown Houston where we first offered aid on September 17.
Approximately 1,300 houses here sustained severe damage during the flood, and many people still can’t return home given the extent of repairs necessary.
During this second distribution, we were able to provide another $167,200 in cash cards, helping 274 households (972 individuals) struggling to recover and get back to a more regular way of life.
For each family, the financial aid helps in a different way, and they are grateful that they can decide what they most need. Shalon and Damar Owens will spend the cash card they received on fixing their cars.
During the hurricane, this couple was initially spared the brunt of the rising waters in their home since their house stands near the top of a hill. Their neighbors however were not as lucky, so the Owens rose to the occasion and offered shelter.
That spirit of community and the urge to help was felt throughout the distribution as well, as both regular and new Tzu Chi volunteers had come from afar in order to participate and offer a helping hand.
As of September 28, Tzu Chi has provided $441,900 in direct aid to 873 families impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Wharton. Our emergency aid distributions will conclude on October 1, as we transition to mid- and long-term aid.
Follow-Up Distribution in Greenspoint – September 27, 2017
On September 27, Tzu Chi Relief volunteers returned to Greenspoint, a neighborhood north of downtown Houston that was severely impacted by the Harvey floods.
Our first distribution here took place over two weeks earlier, on September 10. During this follow-up event, meant to serve those that may have been missed and are still in need of assistance, $80,800 in direct aid was provided, benefitting 139 households (448 people).
Over the course of the two distributions serving Greenspoint residents, we are grateful that we were able to offer relief to 1,142 individuals affected by Harvey, the financial assistance totaling $193,900.
Our follow-up distributions would continue the next day, this time in Wharton, Texas.
September 2017 Declared “Tzu Chi Month” in Dickinson – September 26, 2017
On September 26, Julie Masters, the Mayor of Dickinson, issued a proclamation naming September 2017 “Tzu Chi Month” in the City of Dickinson, “to honor and extend the City’s deepest gratitude to Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation for not only providing direct relief to the first-responders and the citizens of Dickinson, but for also being advocates of selfless love for others and selfless giving through volunteering.”
For everyone at Tzu Chi, the pure act of giving is our greatest reward. And yet, we are deeply touched by this proclamation.
All the volunteers who participated in the distributions in Dickinson, and all of us at Tzu Chi are deeply grateful for being able to help. Over the course of three distributions, thanks to the generosity of everyone who donates to support Tzu Chi Relief, we were able to provide $1,633,800 in direct cash card aid, benefitting 2,832 families (9,864 people).
Helping our Neighbors in Houston – September 21, 24 and 25, 2017
While some volunteers ventured out to offer follow-up disaster aid distributions in previously served areas, others organized distributions at Tzu Chi USA’S Southern Region’s office in Houston. Setting up in the large Jing Si Hall on the premises, they hosted three separate events.
On September 21, a total of 46 families came to the office, where volunteers distributed $28,400 in cash card disaster relief, which would benefit 153 people.
Several days later, a second distribution was held on September 24. Another $88,600 was provided, serving 154 families (53 people).
And on September 25, a third distribution from our office in Houston dispensed $78,200, helping an additional 126 families, benefitting 491 individuals.
Our provision of emergency disaster aid in response to Hurricane Harvey will conclude on October 1, but we still have distributions planned. Watch for our updates.
Follow-Up Distributions – September 21 – 24, 2017
Since we strive to assure that as many people as possible who require disaster aid can get it, after the conclusion of distributions in a certain area, our volunteers try to follow-up and provide aid to those who might have missed the events. And so, between September 21 and 24, they returned to four areas previously served.
On September 21, our volunteers went to a Cambodian community where aid was distributed previously, and provided an additional $162,500 in cash cards, helping another 200 families (727 people).
The next day, they returned to Dickinson, to provide another $199,400 in disaster aid of immediate benefit to 344 families (1,220 individuals).
On September 23, they held another distribution serving Rockport, where aid was distributed to first-responders the day before. Because of major hurricane damage in Rockport, there was no structure left standing that was big enough to fit the amount of people expected.
Fulton, a town nearby, stepped in and the Fulton Fire Department allowed us to set up on their premises. It was an extremely hot day but thanks to some light rain and a constant breeze, our first outdoor distribution since Hurricane Sandy was a success. A total of $249,200 in cash cards was distributed to 480 families (benefitting 1,366 people).
Finally, on September 24, we returned to Beaumont, where our first Harvey Flood distributions took place two weeks before. Here, an additional $202,200 was provided, helping 385 families (1,100 people).
During the same period, our volunteers were also distributing disaster aid from the Jing Si Hall at Tzu Chi’s office in Houston. More about that in the next update.
Disaster Aid for First-Responders – September 19 - 22, 2017
First responders are vital after a disaster however their tireless work is sometimes taken for granted by the general population. Tzu Chi Relief volunteers wanted to pay special attention to this group of individuals that serves with selfless dedication, and organized additional disaster aid distributions specifically for them.
On September 19, we provided a total of $360,000 in cash cards to the families of first-responders working with the Houston Police Department.
The next day, our volunteers served first-responders with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, distributing $240,000 in direct aid of benefit to 400 families.
And on September 21, we distributed $180,000 to the families of 300 first-responders with the Houston Fire Marshal’s Office.
Our volunteers then traveled to Rockport, where Hurricane Harvey made landfall, and on September 22, offered a total of $124,200 to the families of 207 first-responders who were there to serve the community after the eye of the storm passed through and levelled the town
Disaster Relief Distribution in Wharton – September 17, 2017
Homes where all the contents were lost due to water damage, and now only a film of mold remains on most surfaces. People needing basics like shoes and clothes. That’s the situation for thousands of residents in Wharton, Texas after Hurricane Harvey.
When our Harvey flood disaster relief distribution arrived, it felt like hope had returned.
People were grateful for the cash card received, but also the manner in which it was given, many taken aback by the genuine care shown by our volunteers which made getting disaster aid more enjoyable than expected.
With the help of our volunteers from around the world, the distribution in Wharton provided $274,700 in direct financial aid, benefitting 599 families (1,786 people).
Second Disaster Relief Distribution in Dickinson – September 16, 2017
During our second disaster aid distribution in Dickinson, we provided $1,350,400 in direct aid to 2,348 families impacted by Hurricane Harvey – benefitting 8,255 people. This was Tzu Chi USA’s largest disaster relief distribution so far and a milestone in our history. We are extremely grateful we were able to offer this amount of financial aid.
As our volunteers distributed cash cards, they also offered moral support to those sharing distressing personal stories.
Since in the aftermath of a disaster it can be easy to neglect one’s health, Tzu Chi’s Mobile Dental Clinic was also on site during the distribution, as well as doctors offering medical check-ups and acupuncture treatments.
The road to full recovery will be long and hard for many residents, including Margaret Mason who must completely tear down the interior of her home and rebuild anew. The cash card she received will help her buy more building supplies, and continue.
Margaret is a perfect example of the unshakable strength of so many of the people our volunteers met during this disaster relief mission in Texas.
Disaster Assessment in Rockport, September 2017
As Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Gulf Coast of Texas, the town of Rockport – directly in its path – was demolished completely.
When our Tzu Chi Relief team reached Rockport, Stephen Huang – Executive Director of Global Tzu Chi Volunteers – was astonished at the level of destruction and took the fact that Rockport must rebuilt from the ground up deeply to heart.
During the disaster assessment, which would help us establish the extent of relief necessary, Huang discovered a touching connection with the town’s Mayor, Charles Wax.
Wax, who spent 33 years in the military, had been part of a disaster relief mission for Taiwan years ago.
And now, Tzu Chi, a humanitarian aid organization with its roots in Taiwan, was here to help his devastated town in Texas.
Huang was also touched by their connection, as both men discovered that they truly are brothers at heart in their aim to help people recover after a catastrophe.
Our disaster relief distributions will reach Rockport beginning on September 22. Watch for more updates!
Distributions in Galena Park – September 13-15, 2017
One community in Galena Park, Texas, home to a primarily Vietnamese immigrant population, was severely hit by Hurricane Harvey. Throughout our distributions over the course of three days, Tzu Chi relief volunteers provided a total of $112,600 in assistance, aiding 236 families (757 individuals).
One man was so touched by the care and compassion he saw and the financial aid he received – made possible thanks to the donations of many people contributing whatever they can – that he donated his own cash card, hoping to pass that love on to someone else in need.
Our Mobile Dental Clinic Arrives in Houston – September 13, 2017
Tzu Chi’s Great Love Dental Mobile Clinic is also joining the Hurricane Harvey disaster relief mission, ready to offer free dental care in areas impacted by severe flooding.
Volunteers with the clinic left Los Angeles on September 11, and drove 3 days and 2 nights straight to reach Houston on September 13.
We will provide further updates shortly, but in the meantime, we will also be sending out a call seeking professional dental and medical care volunteers. Stay tuned!
Day Two of Disaster Relief Distributions – September 10, 2017
During the morning of our second day of Hurricane Harvey disaster relief distributions, our volunteers began in Greenspoint, a neighborhood north of downtown Houston.
Many were shocked to discover the amount on the debit card with financial aid they had received, up to $800 depending on the number of people in the household.
By the end of the morning, $113,100 in cash cards and 310 eco-blankets had been distributed to 232 families, benefitting 694 individuals.
In the afternoon, a second distribution took place in the town of Dickinson, where disaster relief focused on first responders in the area, many of whom were directly impacted by Hurricane Harvey yet chose to continue helping others in the midst of the crisis.
Many of the officers were overwhelmed by the aid and appreciation they were receiving for their continual efforts to assist others.
By the end of the day, $70,200 in cash cards, 131 eco-blankets, and 119 packages of rice were distributed to 107 families of first responders, benefitting 282 individuals.
During the first weekend of distributions, 1,039 families (2,513 people) received a total of $596,900 in cash cards, 1,273 eco-blankets, 771 bags of dehydrated instant rice, and 339 first aid kits.
Our next distributions take place on the weekend of September 16 to 17, and we estimate to benefit 4,450 families in the towns of Dickinson and Wharton.
Disaster Relief Distributions Begin – September 9, 2017
Our first Hurricane Harvey disaster relief distribution served the towns of Richmond and Rosenberg, where many had been impacted by flooding less than 15 months earlier.
Those returning home after being evacuated found themselves facing a new round of loss and hardship. The immediate assistance we were providing was essential since although many had applied to FEMA and filed insurance claims, it will take time before that aid arrives.
During this first Harvey disaster aid distribution, we distributed $33,200 in cash cards, 67 eco-blankets, and 51 packages of rice distributed to 56 families, benefitting 191 individuals.
In the afternoon, our second distribution serving Beaumont and Port Arthur, delivered $268,800 in cash cards, 469 eco-blankets, 339 first aid kits, and 319 packages of rice to 448 families of first responders, benefitting 716 individuals.
During the same day, our volunteers also distributed $111,600 in cash cards and 296 eco-blankets to 186 families (benefitting 630 individuals) in the town of La Grange, west of Houston, which had also sustained severe flooding.
Volunteering a Helping Hand – September 9, 2017
So far, we have been helping those impacted by the flood clean up in Dickinson, Richmond, Greenspoint, and Wharton.
In fact, the participation of volunteers during the Harvey recovery will be extremely important and can make a world of difference. In Rosenberg, participants with All Hands, a volunteer disaster relief organization, are bringing the light of hope to families struggling to cope with the daunting amount of work that lies ahead.
The Flood Water Finally Retreats in Rosenberg – September 7, 2017
Our volunteers were glad to discover that prior to the arrival of our disaster aid distribution in the town of Rosenberg in Fort Bend County, the flood water had finally begun to recede.
Thanks to doctors at Rosenberg’s Family Life Center, people who had suffered injuries or been displaced due to Hurricane Harvey, could finally get a free medical check up and tetanus shot.
At the same time, FEMA was there offering assistance. However, since FEMA has to stretch every dollar far and wide after a disaster of this scale, it depends on partnerships to fill in the gap between needs and available resources.
We are relieved that our volunteers will soon bring the assistance and care this and other communities like it so desperately need at this time.
Disaster Assessment in Edgebrook – September 7, 2017
The final location the disaster relief team visited was Edgebrook, a neighborhood in Southeast Houston. Tragically, 90% of the population here was impacted by flooding, with 6 to 10 feet of water in some homes.
People are returning to assess the damage, and it’s shocking. Everyone is eager to move forward and get their life back to normal, but the road to recovery will be long.
Slowly, businesses are reopening after an extended period of time during which the entire neighborhood was an inundated ghost town.
And garbage trucks are collecting the constantly growing piles of debris that people remove from their homes, knowing they’ll be here doing this for months.
Our upcoming disaster aid distributions will reach this neighborhood in the days to come, bringing much needed relief.
Disaster Assessment in Wharton – September 6, 2017
An hour away from Houston, the city of Wharton was heavily impacted by Hurricane Harvey, with over 1,350 houses flooded. Unfortunately, most of the people impacted don’t have flood insurance, and those who do, are struggling to pay the premiums right now.
There are other issues they face here as well. While FEMA assistance gives vouchers to stay in hotels, the motels in the area don’t accept them. Wharton is an example of what happens in smaller cities, that are often forgotten after a major disaster.
The resilience and solidarity in this community was evident to our volunteers, as people are looking out for each other. And yet, they left eager to return with aid as quickly as possible since it will months before other help arrives.
Disaster Assessment in Greenspoint – September 6, 2017
Just north of downtown Houston, Greenspoint is a community with a large population, and people in certain rental neighborhoods were severely impacted by Harvey. Many of them are disadvantaged illegal immigrants as well.
For this vulnerable group, seeking government assistance is not an option due to their immigration status, therefore our aid will make a critical difference.
Making sure disaster aid reaches the people who need it most is vital, and thanks to this assessment, in Greenspoint, it will.
Disaster Assessment in Dickinson – September 5, 2017
Our volunteers met with Julie Masters, the Mayor of Dickinson, to discuss how to best aid those most vulnerable in this heavily impacted area.
The Mayor revealed that the number of homes that were damaged by Hurricane Harvey in Dickinson is hard to believe:
Although most residents here didn’t evacuate, cleaning up will be a challenge and plans were made to offer a helping hand with that, apart from providing cash card aid.
Disaster Assessment in Jefferson County – September 3, 2017
Our disaster assessment team travelled to Jefferson County in Southeastern Texas, where the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur were the worst hit.
Beaumont had already suffered tremendous damage when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005. We brought aid then, and we were back once again, 12 years later.
Disaster Assessment in Fort Bend County – September 2, 2017
When our volunteers journeyed to Fort Bend County in West Houston, they discovered that if the damage from Hurricane Harvey wasn’t bad enough, the level of flooding was aggravated by the fact that during the storm, water had been released from the Barker and Addicks reservoirs, fearing their collapse.
Many residents in the towns of Richmond and Rosenberg won’t see the water gone from their homes for weeks, leaving them displaced for what could seem like an eternity for those affected.
The recovery will be particularly difficult here, and so our first disaster aid distributions will start in these communities.
Street Fundraising – Labor Day Weekend, 2017
A street fundraising campaign during the Labor Day weekend took place across the country, including Hawaii. Volunteers were stationed in over 200 locations, reaching 23 states.
At each site, our volunteers inspired the hearts of people passing by, and many offered a donation and their prayers and best wishes for the well being of all those suffering due to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
People also joined the effort internationally. In Ecuador, those who had come to know Tzu Chi and its philosophy during our earthquake disaster aid mission in 2016, and flood relief mission in 2017, went door to door raising funds.
Disaster Assessment Set in Motion – September 1, 2017
Our national disaster assessment team met with local Texas volunteers in Houston on September 1.
Members of the team came from across the United States, each eager to get to work as quickly as possible in order to provide aid without delay.
Their immediate goal was to formulate a strategic plan of action after determining the most pressing needs. Over the course of a week, the team would travel to the hardest hit areas, many still flooded.
Immediate Plans and Relief
Our emergency aid began with the shipment of 12,000 lbs of dehydrated instant rice (MRE) from Taiwan.
Plans to provide 11,000 blankets and 5,000 first aid kits to those impacted in the hardest hit areas, Jefferson County and Fort Bend County, went into motion as well.
Meanwhile, as our national disaster assessment team was being organized, we also sent out a call seeking volunteers to join our upcoming disaster relief distributions, help with the clean-up of homes and communities, and assist in other ways.