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As flooding lingers, Houston begins clean-up

September 2, 2017 at 5:22 PM EDT
More than a week after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Houston is shifting to recovery mode and surveying the damage. The Federal Emergency Management Administration has already granted $83 million in aid to survivors of the storm, including funding for housing and other critical needs, as thousands of people remain in shelters. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Marcia Biggs reports from Houston.
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MARCIA BIGGS: It’s an army of volunteers, ordinary Houstonians wanting to help.

It’s all part of a citywide effort led by the mega-church, Second Baptist, which has mobilized more than 3,000 people.

And supplies arrive by the truckload as Houston settles in to the painstaking task of cleaning up after Harvey’s record floods.

John card is the church’s media relations director.

JOHN CARD/DIRECTOR OF MEDIA RELATIONS, SECOND BAPTIST CHURCH: We’ve got trucks coming in from all over the nation.

BIGGS: Beyond the donations, the volunteers arrived here ready to work.

CARD: When you go to second.org, there’s only three things you can work, “Need assistance,” “volunteer,” and “give.”

BIGGS: They’re divided into small groups, assigned a leader, and deployed to different neighborhoods and families in need.

JOSH PATTERSON/LOCAL VOLUNTEER: Regardless if it’s a week or two weeks or a year, we’ll be here with this effort, supporting our church.

BIGGS: Houston Strong.

PATTERSON: Houston Strong.

BIGGS: Josh Patterson and several others are spending the day in this house ripping out drywall and clearing out anything with water damage. The local banker and Houstonian heeded the call for help from this woman. Maria Teresa has lived in this house for the last 16 years, ever since she emigrated from Mexico.

She’s a substitute teacher at a local elementary school and opens her home as a daycare on the side. She fled with her mother and son to Dallas just before Harvey hit and came home Wednesday to two feet of water.

How did it feel to have this army of volunteers come in from the church today?

THERESA: Oh, it’s amazing! Amazing. That’s what I prayed, I say, “Oh god, send me the love angels surrounding me.” Oh my God. Thank you so much.

BIGGS: But many parts of Houston are still flooded.

The Arkema Company blamed floodwaters for a second chemical plant fire last night in nearby Crosby. The company said the water knocked out refrigeration needed to keep chemicals from degrading and catching fire.

One hundred miles east of Houston, residents in Beaumont, Texas waited for their water treatment plant to be fixed. They continued to line up at grocery stores and distribution centers to get bottled water.

Back here in North Houston, Maria says she has no flood insurance. Yet she remains grateful.

THERESA: What’s important for me is my son has life. My mother she is 78 years old okay, but the most important for me is we are keep it together. We are safe.

BIGGS: And for now, she’s just taking life one day at a time.

NICK SCHIFRIN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: And Marcia Biggs joins me now from Houston.

Marcia, that is your hometown. Give us some perspective as you were going out last night, today, are all parts of the city under water or actually different parts being affected differently?

BIGGS: Indeed, it is my home town. I usually cover the refugee crises in places like Syria and Iraq. And so, to see some of the similar themes of displacement and loss here in my own home town is truly incredible.

There are parts of the city that were not dramatically affected. I arrived last night and went to dinner at a restaurant near where I grew, and it was as if nothing had ever happened. People were sitting outside in the cafe, enjoying a nice meal.

Then today, I went to an area called Meyerland where a lot of my childhood friends grew up, I spent a lot of time on those lawns as a child, and the prevailing image is like the one you see here behind me — lawn after lawn after lawn just covered in drywall, in damaged appliances, damaged furniture, clothes, all just rubbish just waiting to be carted off.

So, it is quite surreal. It’s definitely two different versions of a city. And then there are also areas of the city which are still under water, pockets of northwest of Houston.

SCHIFRIN: And, Marcia, what you were saying at the beginning is fascinating. You know, you’ve covered war. You have seen this transition. People survived. That’s what they had to do at first. Are they now moving into a level of trauma and are they overwhelmed?

BIGGS: People are definitely traumatized. You know, I mentioned being in the restaurant and it seemed as if nothing had ever happened, but yet when you ask someone, where is your home or how is your family, they immediately — it’s all that anyone can think about.

So, you know, and there are so many questions and concerns for those areas that were affected. I mean, mold is a huge issue. You walk into some of those houses, it’s — the smell of mold is everywhere. Of course, the water, people are concerned about the health effects of the water, and there aren’t a lot of answers to those questions.

And then, of course, insurance. People are starting the tedious task of trying to file insurance claims and go through the forms and list every single thing that was damaged.

So, it — there is a lot going on right now for these people. And, of course, they were in survival mode for so many days. Now, they are sort of setting about the task of rebuilding and taking a breath.

And I think, you know, so many people didn’t know what to do for so many days, that now, this is why you’re seeing a lot of people coming together and trying to help. The community spirit here is so impressive and incredible. Of course, that’s the prevailing theme. But at the same time, I think people just need something to do, Nick.

SCHIFRIN: That’s interesting. Marcia Biggs, thank you very much. Reporting from her home town of Houston.

BIGGS: Thank you.

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