My best friend moved to Rockport 3 years ago when her husband was offered the job as airport manager. His sisters, brother in law, nieces and nephews and mother all lived in that town, and two years ago, the construction on their newly built homes was completed. (his sister and brother in law, and my friend and husband built homes side by side)
A week ago Thursday, she called me and asked if she could bring her family up to DFW and would I be willing to have a few stay with us. She told me that there was a mandatory evacuation in Rockport, but they were thinking it would only be until Monday. Of course, I always love seeing her, so I was pretty excited for an excuse for them to come up and spend the weekend. As the day went by, they were predicting a more severe storm, and the family decided to get a hotel room in Waco, close to their son, who went to Baylor. They wanted to be closer to Rockport and brought animals on the trip, so thought a hotel would be the best option. My friend's husband, his brother in law and his niece (PD) had to stay behind in the storm, as they were all on the first response team. My husband's friend, as the airport manager, was FEMA certified and knew he would be needed. That Friday night was long for me, I can only image what they were going through in that hotel. The last update they received from those who stayed on the night of the storm was at 1:30 AM, and didn't hear back until around 9 am the next morning. Luckily, they received word that everyone was just fine and had survived the storm, and the building they were in at the airport (the smallest building) had remained, but the rest of the airport was completely destroyed, including lots of private planes housed there. From that point on, he has worked every single day, organizing rescue and donation efforts, keeping up generators, meeting with government officials who've come in, ordering port-a-potties for various places in the town, and who knows what all else. His niece has been working 12 hours on/12 hours off since the storm hit, ensuring safety for the town against looters, all the while, not being able to see her kids, who were with the family in Waco. In the meantime, the family (who were told it would be more like 30 or more days before they could move back home) moved from the hotel after a few days to a house donated to them in Buerne, a town northwest of San Antonio. They stayed there for a few days, until they found an AirBnB in Corpus that would allow them to stay for 30 days. It was so much closer to home and it was a place where the people who had to work in Rockport to actually take a break when the time came. They couldn't get in to the AirBnB until Monday (yesterday) so over the weekend, with the help of a non-stop generator, they went back home to a house with electricity to get more stuff they needed and get the family together for the first time in a week.
I talked to her Thursday night and she was telling me how things were going, how the town looked, how tired everyone was, etc. She said amazingly, their newly built homes were not damaged at all, just broken trees in the yards. I got off the phone and told Jason that I couldn't stand it, I needed to go down and see her and everyone else, even if it was only one night. I put a notice on Facebook and Nextdoor that I was making the trip, was there anyone who wanted to send anything with me? In one day, I received monetary donations and lots of items to load in my van, and on Saturday morning, I started driving. I wasn't sure what to expect exactly - I'm driving on a beautifully sunny and surprisingly un-hot Saturday, past cows and green fields and through small towns, to a place of utter devastation. When I got to Victoria, I started noticing signs of the storm, in the way of bent signs, boarded up windows and broken signal lights. But for the most part, the town was in good shape and many businesses were open. I did see this tree in the front yard of someone's home and was amazed. It was literally pulled up by it's roots. I thought it was bad, but would surprised in Rockport how many of these trees I would eventually see.
The drive from Victoria to Tavoli was a little more telling of the storm, as there were several utility poles down and little houses on the way were destroyed. From Tavoli to Rockport, there were so many utility poles down. There were lineman all along the road who were trying to get the electric wires raised off the road, out of water on the side of the road, and trying to get poles back up. A large convoy of 18 wheelers had brand new poles on their beds, ready to replace the mangled ones. Driving into town, I started to really understand just how devastating this storm actually was. I began seeing massive damage, brush piled up along the roads, broken lumber from the frames of houses everywhere, tins from roofs all over the place, and just lots and lots of furniture that was damaged and in various places of the yards. I drove past the airport and saw rows of white trailers, that were linemen, tents everywhere, housing Red Cross, FEMA and other relief organizations. There were plywood signs with spray paint along the road that said things like "Free supplies!" "Free BBQ!" People had set up small tents all over town, with a grill and some hamburger meat, making burgers and offering the supplies to any who needed it. It was actually pretty amazing to see - all those people, everywhere, just helping where they could and how they could.
My friend didn't know I was coming, but her husband did - we wanted it to be a surprise. And she certainly was. They were also incredibly moved by the supplies and donations I brought with me, and were very excited that for once, during this whole ordeal, they could be helpful and of use and feel like they were contributing. That day and night was unexpectedly pretty cool and not humid. Normally, the humidity takes your breath away. So it helped keep the house cool, as the generator was keeping the AC running. They had already decided they were going to cook the meat in the fridge that was going to go bad, so that night, we grilled out, sat outside in the cool breeze and had a nice evening together. You wouldn't have even known we were in the middle of the national disaster. It was a much needed happy break from the constant anxiety they'd been feeling for days.
The next morning, we woke up and starting putting together care packages. The idea was to grab a ready made bag and drive around and offer it to people. We had lots of brand new socks, donated clothes, toilet paper, shampoo and all kinds of hygiene items. We even got the youngster to help.
We had the van loaded up and ready to go. The first stop would be in their old neighborhood, the neighborhood they all stayed in for the year while their houses to being built. These homes were vacation rentals, mostly, just beautiful and colorful, beachy type homes.
The picture below is a picture of the small condo complex they rented. Where you see the wall completely gone, was their condo.
The home was completely flattened.
The below picture shows what we saw alot on our drive around town - mountains of debris, either still in the yard, or moved out by the street. The other crazy thing is that this storm acted alot like a tornado....destroying one house while saving the next.
This next picture is what we typically came across when driving around town. These two people were fortunate and didn't lose hardly anything during the storm. But they still had massive amounts of debris and tree branches in their yard, so they were outside hauling things to the road. We stopped and talked to them, asking if they needed anything. "Oh no, we don't need anything," they said. "Give it to someone who needs it more." This became the theme for my trip to Rockport. I noticed she was hauling branches with her bare hands, and asked if she could use some new work gloves. Those she gladly took. She saw we had tall thick socks, and asked if she could have a couple pairs of those too, and I said of course. Doing all that work in socks all day, with branches scraping your legs to shreds, then not having a washing machine to do any laundry would be hard. Luckily, they had a Tide truck come in and was taking people's loads, cleaning them, then giving them back. Praise the Lord for small conveniences!
We drove around for a couple hours and didn't have much luck passing out items. No one would take anything, thinking they would be taking something out of the hands of someone who needed it more, or "who lost way more than I did." We decided to go to our drop off point at the abandoned strip mall, where the parking lot became a hub for donations. This area was supplies, and there was a huge area for nothing but clothes and shoes. Seeing all those people out there, volunteering with loads and loads of items they brought with them...well, let's just say, it was overwhelming to watch.
But when I really broke down was when we decided we were hungry, and that we would stop and see what we could find to eat. There, like a bright orange strobe light, was Whataburger, who were handing out free Whatameals. There were excited employees and volunteers, waving in traffic to the drive through. They were so happy to be serving us that day. I don't know if it was their enthusiasm or the fact that at least one restaurant in the town was going to be OK, but we both got misty eyed waiting for our food. The burgers were presacked, right off the grill, and we left with our glorious burgers, which were probably the best ones I've ever had.
Apparently, other people in the town were excited as well.
We spent the next hour or so driving through the rest of the town. We found several funny signs up in places. The boat picture has a sign that says, "Boat for sale-cheap!" One I didn't get a picture of was one that said "Yard of the month" with the house collapsed and debris everywhere. It was actually incredibly encouraging to see people with a sense of humor in the face of devastation. In fact, this entire trip was more encouraging, than anything else. While there was so much damage, there was also a huge sense of "We will get through this!" People were working together, working hard, volunteering for others, donating time and resources, cleaning and supporting their community. I left that day with the knowledge that whatever has been destroyed can be rebuilt, with the help of others.
I'm so glad I got to go. It puts things in perspective seeing something like that. I really hope to get down there again, when the rebuilding starts to happen. It would be an enormous honor if I got to help with building someone's new home out of the rubble.