The destruction in Houston is a just like Edgecumbe “but on a larger scale,” a Kiwi firefighter volunteering in the area says.
Opunake volunteer firefighter Jozien Hannah ended up in Houston after taking part in the New Orleans for the 9/11 memorial stair climb on September 9 with her sister and fellow firefighter Jana.
After the event, friend and Seattle firefighter Kelly Melton suggested heading to Texas to volunteer their services, as the city recovers from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and Hannah jumped at the chance to muck in.
“On the destruction side it’s quite high levels. Houses are pretty much complete internal tear downs,” Hannah said.
“I was deployed through work to Edgecumbe with their flood…It’s about the same as Edgecumbe but on a larger scale.”
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Harvey was one of the costliest storms to hit the United States, displacing more than 1 million people, 46 of whom are feared dead from the flooding.
Much of the damage took place in the Houston metropolitan area, which has an economy about the same size as Argentina’s. Seventy per cent of Harris County, which encompasses Houston, at one point was covered with 45cm or more of water, county officials said.
Hannah is in a team with four others, including her husband Josh Young, Waipu Fire and Emergency firefighter Laura Andrews and Milton and her partner, alongside several other members of the Cajun Army, who are taking good care of them, she said.
The Cajun Army is made up of volunteers who give their time and manpower to help those in need and their relief work consisted mainly of stripping the houses back to bare structure, including removing all gib.
Most of the owners had already removed their belongings, Hannah said.
“They managed to get their belongings out, but…their belongings are completely and utterly destroyed.
“Some of these houses were completely gutted and there’s nothing that’s salvageable.”
She said it was a great to see people pulling together.
“It is a whole bunch of people helping other people. It is absolutely amazing to see. They’ve travelled from all around America. The majority of the Cajun Army, they’re ordinary people like us.”
Hannah said she didn’t know much about the Cajun Army until they were driving to Houston, but it was an amazing group to be a part of.
The homeowners were grateful for the help too, she said.
“When they are evaluating it, when emergency services pull out that’s when the people kind of get their thoughts together and actually realise the actual impact and everything that’s about to happen with their lives, and that’s the part that gets them down the most.
“We get a lot of ‘God bless you’ and ‘thank you so much for helping’.”
While in New Orleans for the climb she also had her wallet stolen with about US$930 inside. She said she had travel insurance but there were personal things like family photos and firefighting memorabilia that she may never get back.
Despite the setback, of losing her personal belonging, Hannah said she had no regrets about getting involved with the stair climb or mucking in in Houston.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world.”