Houston faithful offer hope, help for Harvey victims amid aid appeal

Houston faithful offer hope, help for Harvey victims amid aid appeal

Texas Harvey
Volunteers help to rescue flood victims after torrential rains pounded southeast Texas following Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

HOUSTON: Houston's faithful filed into Sunday church services with their hearts heavy after mega-storm Harvey's destruction, as the Texas governor led appeals for billions of dollars in aid for his battered state.

Some worshippers sought succor, and others offered compassion and aid, for their devastated communities in displays of solidarity and partnership that highlighted the best of the human spirit in trying times.

The nation's fourth-largest city of Houston was drying out after a week of flooding, with attention turning to the massive rebuild. But the immediate needs of many victims here remained acute.

"We know that some are distressed, some are displaced. But I believe through it all we can say God is good," preached Minister Gary Smith at the Fifth Ward Church of Christ.

More than 1,000 worshippers packed the historically black church's sanctuary for a service that repeatedly addressed the tragedy that hit many Texas and Louisiana communities.

In Houston, which was devastated by record-setting rainfall, many residents whose homes had flooded returned over the weekend to begin removing soggy drywall, soaked carpets and ruined possessions.

The flooding damaged 40,000 to 50,000 homes in Houston and sent tens of thousands of people fleeing to emergency shelters.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that a years-long recovery lay ahead, and appealed to Congress to step up and approve huge funding for reconstruction.

"The rebuilding process, this is where the long haul begins," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on "Fox News Sunday." "This is where we come to the part where Congress plays a role."

The White House has asked Congress for US$7.85 billion for Harvey-related "response and initial recovery efforts," calling it a "down payment" on the long-term cost of recovering from the record flooding.

In the end, Abbott said, recovery will cost "well over US$120 billion, probably US$150 billion to US$180 billion."

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney has said the administration will later seek an additional US$6.7 billion for relief from the storm that has been blamed for at least 42 deaths.

Congress returns to Washington on Tuesday after a summer recess. Democrats and Republicans who have feuded for months over President Donald Trump's agenda are under pressure to come together and approve disaster relief.

Diane Chapman, who was flooded out of her Houston home and was loading up on relief supplies, said lawmakers should look beyond the price tag.

"It's not that it matters how much everything costs," she said. "What matters is that you help people who need help."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner urged people who had been planning on traveling to Houston not to cancel their trips, conventions, concerts or other events, saying the city was now 95 per cent dry.

"I want to be very clear. Yes, it was a very serious storm, historic, unprecedented, but the city of Houston is open for business."


Houston is a regional hub and also a centre of the US petroleum industry, with the surrounding Gulf Coast area home to about a third of the nation's refining capacity.

"That is a can-do city, we're not going to engage in a pity party," Turner said. He appeared on Sunday on both CBS and NBC.

While Houston was inching back to relative normality, floodwaters in other hard-hit cities nearby such as Rockport, Beaumont and Port Arthur were slower to recede.

Meanwhile, many Americans marked a "National Day of Prayer" for victims of the storm.

In Washington, Trump and his wife Melania attended morning services at St. John's Church near the White House.

At Houston's churches, worshippers dressed in their Sunday best while others came in T-shirts.

Barney Smith, 66, was among the more than 70 Fifth Ward church members impacted by Harvey. "I had to take everything out. Everything," he told AFP, saying his home had been swamped by three feet (one meter) of water.

As he spoke, people like Luella Rivera picked out supplies in the church's gymnasium, where a relief station was stocked with donations.

"I came for clothes, water and food," said Rivera, 53. Her house flooded with knee-deep water, but she refused to evacuate. "This is my first time in need of help," she said.

Businessman Britt Lively said he and fellow members of the Franklin Church of Christ watched the horror unfold from afar and felt compelled to help.

They drove two hours to the Fifth Ward church with a livestock trailer full of donations, and set up a BBQ pit in the parking lot to cook 5,000 hot dogs for the church's relief lunch.

"It don't matter if you're black, white, Latino, we're here to help" Houston, said the 37-year-old former football player, who along with most of his church group is white. "One day, we'll need them."

Source: AFP/de