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Harvey volunteer: ‘It smelled horrible’

The hurricane damaged hundreds of thousands of homes. COURTESY/DAVID BURNETT JR.

BY XAVIER HERSHOVITZ
OU News Bureau

Three days of helping victims of Hurricane Harvey has left two Michigan men with memories that won’t soon fade.

David Burnett Jr. and Orlando Herrera, both of Pontiac, traveled to Sugarland, a small town about 30 minutes west of Houston, to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Volunteers ripped out walls to prevent mold. COURTESY/DAVID BURNETT JR.

Burnett received an email from Disaster Relief At Work saying the organization was in need of volunteers. He told Herrera about it, and they were both all in.

“We made the plan on a Friday and left on a Monday, so it was pretty spur of the moment,” Burnett said. “We didn’t put much planning into it.”

Hurricane Harvey hit southern Texas on Aug. 25 with record rainfall. Seventy-seven people died. According to the Houston Department of Public Safety, more than 270,000 homes were damaged and over 15,000 more were destroyed. Damage is estimated at up to $180 billion, according to Texas Gov. Greg Abbot.

Once in Sugarland, it became clear that this was a place that desperately needed help. The water had receded, but the damage was extensive.

“It smelled horrible,” Burnett said. Added Herrera, “There was just no way people were able to live in those houses.”

The two went to work prepping damaged houses. They helped homeowners rip out the bottom 4 feet of walls soaked by floodwaters. This was necessary to prevent mold growing behind the walls.

Most days they worked from about 7 a.m. to as late as 6 p.m., depending on the need that day. A local church provided shelter, food and water for volunteers, and a nearby country club allowed them to shower.

The people’s spirit amid all the devastation struck Burnett the most.

“You got down there and meet people whose lives were pretty much ruined,” Burnett said. “And just to see how resilient these people were — they couldn’t be broken.”

From left, Burnett and Herrera with Javier, a homeowner whose house was flooded. COURTESY/DAVID BURNETT JR

Herrera recalled a moment when they first arrived that he said will stick with him.

While driving through a neighborhood, they passed people gathered in a homeowner’s driveway. When the road dead ended, they drove back to the group.

“We walk up his driveway and say, ‘Hey, we are volunteers from Michigan, do you need any help demoing your house?’ ” Herrera said. “What we did not know was that group of people were not volunteers. They were praying with Javier that help would come.”

“And there we were, asking him if he needed help. Javier broke down,” Herrera said. “It was just such a real moment. I couldn’t even explain how I felt.”

Herrera and Burnett worked on nine houses during the three days they were in Texas.

Burnett said they wouldn’t have been able to make a difference without the entire group of volunteers.

“I just have a whole different appreciation for my life, like the things we stress about bills, school and stuff like that,” Herrera said. “And they are worrying about getting water for their family.”

 

 

Short URL: http://www.ounewsbureau.com/?p=11797

Posted by on Nov 6 2017. Filed under Featured article, Oakland County. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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