Hurricane Harvey left an indelible mark on Refugio and other small communities in what’s called Texas’ Coastal Bend, battering buildings and replacing bucolic bliss with chaos. But the streets in this town of 2,890 people are not empty because of the hurricane – they are empty in spite of it. It’s a brisk nod of Texas defiance in the face of overwhelming loss. A tip of the hat to the unifying roles of faith, family, and football as Texans begin to rebuild a way of life that neither war nor weather has managed to vanquish.
Susan Keays stands at the water’s edge and shades her eyes to better see an approaching boat. As she holds her cellphone, verifying an address, she quickly counts heads. One volunteer is missing. This morning, they were strangers. Now, they are a sort of family. She is on Memorial Boulevard, where kayaks and bass boats bob in a river that shouldn’t be. At first, she came to the edge of the flood to save horses. She is staying to save people.
Outreach teams load their vans with granola bars and water and head into the dark, armed with nothing more than flashlights, clipboards, and hand sanitizer. They search the streets in the daytime, looking for signs of life such as bedrolls. At night, they return, hoping to find the owners. Sometimes they are asked to leave; other times, they are hailed as angels of mercy.
New condominiums are flanked by vacant lots festooned with faded “For Sale” signs. On some properties, a chimney or staircase tells the story of what was once there, while others hold no clues beyond the concrete slab Katrina left behind. And even these are beginning to disappear as the earth reclaims itself, burying the past beneath impenetrable layers of mud and tangled weeds.
“For those on the outside looking in, they’re seeing that the churches can’t even come together,” says Urban Hope member Dion Watts. “That’s something that has been a Goliath – a huge stumbling block. If we can come together on this, the message it will send to the rest of the world will be profound.”