After the Storm: Reflecting on Harvey One Year On
The first of a deadly trio of hurricanes, Harvey smashed into Houston with winds of more than 130 mph, on August 25, 2017.
The months of high summer, when most people kick back and take it easy are never relaxing for an organization like Project HOPE, which is always on alert to deploy medical volunteers and supplies to hurricane disaster zones that rip across our hemisphere.
Exactly a year ago, those plans were hurriedly pressed into action when Hurricane Harvey kicked off a punishing storm season that saw Project HOPE teams fan out across Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico offering vitally needed emergency care.
The first of a deadly trio of hurricanes, Harvey smashed into Houston with winds of more than 130 mph, on August 25, 2017 and became the worst rainstorm in the nation’s history as it flooded more than 154,000 homes across Harris County and forced local and state leaders in Texas to rethink long-term flood mitigation plans.
The catastrophe marked an unusual moment for Project HOPE. For much our history – and we are celebrating 60 years of lifesaving operations this year – we have mostly deployed overseas, fighting natural disasters, epidemics and building the capacity of health workers in local communities. But this time, with the needs so acute and our expertise in such demand, we rode to the rescue inside America’s borders.
One year on, our medical volunteers and emergency responders are reflecting on the drama of the storm and its impact on those who gratefully accepted their care and psychological support. Everyone in the path of the storm in Texas had a story of how Harvey tested their strength and changed them forever.
Project HOPE staff and volunteers, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists and mental help professionals treated hundreds of people in clinics in Houston, Katy, Tomball and Rosenberg, Texas. First responders, teachers, residents and children returning to school all received crucial tetanus immunizations, treatment for both acute and chronic illnesses and mental health services.
One volunteer who went to Texas, Carma Erickson-Hurt, is a clinical nurse specialist who worked with the HOPE medical team in the town of Katy. One of the crucial tasks she carried out was administering tetanus immunizations in a mobile clinic, since infection is one of the big risks for people who come into contact with downed debris from trees and buildings and flood waters. Her work was undertaken as part of HOPE’s partnership with Heart to Heart International.
“The very first day that I was there, a dad came into the clinic. He was 25 or 30 years old and he brought his five-year-old daughter,” Carma remembers.
“He told me how he had left his house as the waters were rising and when he started walking out of the house, he had his daughter clinging to him and the water was reaching his chest. He was petrified. I asked if he could swim and he said “no.” He got choked up. He got so, so scared, walking in the water and not knowing if it was going to get deeper.”
Over the course of just a few days, Carma and her colleagues saw over 100 patients, and as they offered medical care, they listened to inspiring stories of survival and endurance – as well as offering empathy for people whose lives had been swept away in a devastating tide.
Carma told us during her mission that she had been a HOPE volunteer for a decade all over the world but that her Harvey deployment took on extra poignancy.
“This mission has a different meaning for me because it’s a disaster here at home in the United States. I have been so impressed by the community response which has been so welcoming. People openly show their gratitude for the health services we’re providing and we feel really embraced by the community and that makes a huge difference.
Nurse Cheri Dobson said she encountered an authentic disaster scenario and that HOPE’s experts offered a vital service in providing continuous health care as regular services were shut down by the storm.
“There were people who needed their meds and we provided a bridge. We needed to be there for them. I always come back with renewed enthusiasm for your job.”
One thing that a lot of Project HOPE volunteers find is that while their services are deeply appreciated by the patients and caregivers they help, they also derive genuine personal benefits from their missions.
“I got to see a lot of things and that was beneficial to me. We did a lot of tetanus and flu vaccines. I’m a better nurse when I come back from my experiences from Project HOPE. It allows me to walk around without blinders.” said Fran Bauer, another volunteer nurse who answered the call after Hurricane Harvey.
Paula Anderson who was also in Texas added: “I really enjoyed the experience and came out of there with an increased awareness and admiration for the people on my team because they really, really did handstands and summersaults for their patients. They did an amazing job under austere conditions.”
Reflecting on Harvey, volunteer Alba Carbonell Mongay said: “The Project HOPE team is an example of a team working with passion, with high commitment and integrity. They devoted their time not only at a professional level but also at a personal level. This experience allowed me to get a wider perspective of the world learning how to approach issues in a different way in a more difficult environment.”