2019 Deployment: Tropical Storm Imelda

Cleaning Up the Chaos

Driving through the flatlands just north of Beaumont, Texas, a lone volunteer behind the wheel of a pickup hauling a horse trailer loaded with supplies caught some of the first glimpses of how eye-opening Imelda really was.

“People were not prepared,” said CAC volunteer Daniel Jarvis, who made one of four emergency supply drops during the deployment. “It was remarkable. They’ve been flooded multiple times in the last couple of years and yet… there was no one on the ground who had a good grasp of ‘this is what needs to happen, this is how we need to go about it.’ ’”

Jarvis noticed stockpiles of furniture outside of homes, some people actively moving belongings, and others still reeling in the wake of Tropical Storm Imelda. As a volunteer for Citizens Assisting Citizens, Jarvis answered the call to get boots on the ground for the aid efforts along with two other new CAC volunteers, Triple Kocurek and Micky Frank. Each made critical deliveries for an entire community all but forgotten by mainstream media.

Jarvis wasn’t alone in his journey. Behind the scenes, Citizens Assisting Citizens volunteers watched closely and cleared his path. As Jarvis collected supplies for the trip from Houston, many people asked why he was buying so many cleaning supplies and buckets. Since the storm didn’t hit the Houston area as bad, few were aware of the need just a few miles away. “It’s like a lot of things: I guess, if it doesn’t affect you or someone you know, you just don’t care,” he said.

Some areas of SE Texas were barely impacted, but other areas were hit hard. Imelda’s slow-moving, yet heavy downpour proved the fourth wettest tropical storm on record in Texas, second only to Hurricane Harvey, within the last four decades. While the high winds dropped quickly upon landfall, the storm still brought an extreme amount of rain very quickly. Imelda dumped 43.15” of precipitation – 10” higher than the average countertop – within 36 hours in some areas. The Beaumont, TX region was hit the hardest.

However, with few options for photo ops, the event received little coverage compared to Hurricane Harvey back in 2017. The slow, steady impact of the storm and lack of media coverage submerged the damage reports. Five deaths were reported, and property damages are anticipated at nearly $1 billion or more – the greatest economic loss sustained from natural disasters in mainland United States to date for 2019. It was an epic deluge.

Prior to the event, CAC kept a close eye on the storm. It had the potential to be a sleeper storm and was right on the heels of Hurricane Dorian in the Gulf of Mexico, an already intense time for the CAC Intel Team and senior CAC leaders. As Imelda made landfall and got downgraded to a tropical storm, the question of deploying volunteers was yet to be confirmed.

“Our ability to act relies on national and local Intel, financial resources, and the availability of both remote and local Volunteers. Without those 3 pieces in place, actions would not be possible OR safe.” Said Joshua Sloan, who assisted in the CAC Imelda Deployment. “Luckily, because of our Donors, and strict fiscal discipline, the finance piece was figured out before the storm. It was a known variable.”

CAC is not the kind of organization that just writes a check and walks away. In order to deploy, CAC’s mission requires local involvement, from local volunteers. Word went out quickly by email and phone to rally support on the ground.

“Because of prior volunteer contact lists from Hurricanes Harvey, Florence and Michael, we had most all of our remote Volunteer Team assembled prior to the storm. Only the local and regional contacts had to be made and coordinated. And we had to make sure they could operate safely.” Sloan said.

According to Erin Martin, Executive Director, CAC was prepared to spend a minimum of $8,500 prior to the Deployment.

“We know before a Deployment how much budget we can spend, but we also add to that any new donations that come in during the Deployment and its missions,” said Martin. “The success of our first-ever pledge drive in 2019, ensured that we had the funds available to act quickly.”

Damage Report

When reports from intel on the ground started to roll in, the team realized how much damage had really occurred. On Sept. 20, CAC volunteers received an activation alert to be ready for deployment and coordination efforts. The team secured a quick $500 for an initial supply drop, then began coordinating additional drop locations while rallying support on the ground.

“The hurt here is very significant,” said Vernon Pierce, of the Jefferson County Long-Term Recovery team. “FEMA has counted 5,448 homes in the county who received water, many of these homes were also flooded during Harvey.”

Local churches and distribution points had plenty of food and clothing supplies – but lacked the supplies desperately needed by the communities impacted during the storm. Low-lying stagnant ponds and fields contaminated with chemicals and animal waste combined with rising water levels and pushed contaminants inside homes, creating a major sanitation risk. An immediate need for cleanup kits surfaced as floodwaters receded.

Behind the scenes, Citizens Assisting Citizens volunteers from around the country started loading up virtual shopping carts with components for clean-up kits and additional supplies such as box fans, push brooms and scoop shovels. Meanwhile, a few key volunteers were ready to roll in Texas and Louisiana to help gather supplies on the ground and make the much-needed deliveries a reality. Logistic team volunteers with CAC had eyes in the sky and routed travel away from one main route on I-10 because of a road closure related to a bridge damaged by a barge that had broken loose and caused significant damage.

Bringing it Home

CAC supply drops became an immediate help for local residents. The multiple drops at multiple locations served communities surrounding the Beaumont area. These included the Winnie Chrysler-Dodge Dealership, Fannett Fire Department, Nome Fire Department, and First Christian Church in Beaumont.

With the help of the Jefferson County Long Term Recovery Center, Director Vernon Pierce, CAC’s drops proved to be some of the first supplies available to victims of the storm. CAC volunteers were able to provide aid where entities like FEMA, the Salvation Army, the National Guard and the Red Cross were still mounting response efforts or waiting on federal storm declaration approvals to mobilize.

In all, several CAC volunteers from Texas and Louisiana made four different supply runs. The first was to get supplies into a small community in Winnie, TX, where the sheriff’s department shut down access to the public long before a national emergency was declared. A few nearby areas less affected set up informal supply locations on the outskirts of communities hit the hardest. One such location was Beach City, TX. The locals there knew all the backroads and were  able to get past barricades. This is where Citizens Assisting Citizens made its first local distribution contact, a car dealer in Winnie, Texas.

The First Wave

Triple Kocurek, a long-time CAC volunteer who was working a few miles north of the affected region, took Tuesday afternoon off of work to lend a hand and get an initial round of supplies to a small community in Winnie, TX. With the help of a few locals and Winnie Chrysler-Dodge, a car lot which had become a regional drop point, he was able to get much needed supplies into the hands of the owners of the auto dealership who lived in Beach City, TX. This was his first CAC supply drop. Affected residents were receiving local aid from this dealership very early on. “There was nothing out there,” said Kocurek. “No Federal or State agencies. It was all local small local groups pulling together.”

Kocurek said locals were ecstatic to receive the aid and they banded together to combine food and resources until additional support arrived. CAC was able to provide 12 complete cleanup kits and several box fans for the community of about 50 homes in the region during the first run.

Looking back on the event, Kocurek emphasized the importance of stepping up as a volunteer when neighbors are in need. Kocurek understood the mission and vision of Citizens Assisting Citizens.

“If nobody volunteers, then who’s going to show up when you need help?” he said. “That’s something that everybody forgets about.”

The Second Wave

By Wednesday, almost a week after the storm made landfall, much of the floodwaters pulled back and signs of repairs were underway. However, the bulk of Federal aid was yet to be seen. Daniel Jarvis signed up as a CAC volunteer to help out, took the day off of work and got behind the wheel to deliver goods more than 60 miles away from his own home. He noticed several homes with contractor bags of flood waste and cabinets or furniture staged outside homes as he drove with his delivery of 50 additional cleanup kits.

When he arrived at his destination in Nome, 42 buckets rushed out the door within the first two hours, and the remaining supplies were gone by 9 a.m. the next morning.

“Everyone in town was waiting for that help to arrive,” said Cindy Hood, Alderman with the Nome, TX City Council. “We are so appreciative for organizations like you. What a blessing you were to the community.”

By the end of the second shop-and-drop deployment, it became clear that more help would be needed. A stretch funding goal of $1,500 allowed for additional supplies and additional mobilizations by CAC volunteers.

The Last Push

“With a rallying cry by our Social Media Team, we were able to add an additional $1,500 to our Deployment budget,” said Erin Martin. This allowed CAC to do its 4th and final emergency supply drop.

Soon after the drop in Nome, stretch goal funding brought the total aid funds to $10,000 which allowed for a third emergency supply drop by Louisiana CAC volunteer Micky Franks on the 26th, where he recruited a neighbor, and a fourth supply drop on the 27th where he was aided by his wife, son and the family dog. By the time CAC volunteers made their third run, National Guard troops were just beginning to hand out food and water rations to residents in Beaumont.

Generous donations and merchant discount from Texas big box hardware stores, allowed CAC volunteers to gather materials and provide cleanup kits and extra cleanup equipment for more than 250 families. This aid was distributed by carefully chosen distribution partners on the ground.

“You guys were fantastic,” Said Vernon Pierce from the Jefferson County Long-Term Recovery team. “Your donation meant a lot for a lot of people.”

By the Numbers:

Volunteer Hours tracked 428 hours between 9.15.19 and 9.30.19

~$800 merchant discounts
250 emergency cleaning kits
25 fans delivered
25 Scoop shovels
250 families served
5 Days pre-planning
4 Coordinated supply drop missions
4 Active delivery days
$9,000+ dollars spent
18 Active volunteers (Remote + Local)
12 New volunteers
1000+ social media reach

Post-Flooding Preparedness:

CAC volunteers are always needed behind the scenes to help support efforts year-round. If you’d like to join as a volunteer, sign up now, or lend your support through a donation! Regardless of your location, it’s critical that every citizen takes preparedness in their own hands.

“Our vision as an organization is that everyone will be prepared for whatever. And there’s a huge amount of work to be done for that,” [Bryan Caldwell]

The greatest needs during this deployment were volunteer boots on the ground, and clean-up kits. You can take action by being more prepared or volunteering to help others in need. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes or flooding, be sure to keep a clean-up kit on hand like the ones distributed during Imelda by CAC Team Volunteers!

Build Your Own Clean-Up Kit For Flood Aftermath Cleanup:

  • 5-Gallon Bucket (With Lid)
  • Pine Sol
  • Sponges
  • Scrub brushes
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Contractor Grade Trash Bags
  • Nitrile-dipped Work Gloves
  • Handi-Wipes
  • 28-oz. Dishwashing Liquid
  • Disposable ¼-Face Masks
  • Bleach

While every disaster is different, during Imelda supplies were acquired in a 100 mile radius and hand delivered to drop points. However, for organizations and individuals who want to create their own cleaning kits, you can read about the CAC team’s Amazon Disaster Supply shopping lists here.

Special Thanks:

Jefferson County Long Term Recovery Center
Winnie Chrysler-Dodge Dealership
Fannett Fire Department
Nome Fire Department
First Christian Church in Beaumont.

Imelda Fact Resource/reference links:

Imelda Photo Gallery