“Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck.” —Psalm 69:1, ESV
The devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey in August left the nation awestruck. But as believers have rushed in with relief aid, emotional and spiritual help, some victims have found hope in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Harvey hit, it was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since 2004, when Hurricane Charley hit Florida. And although Harvey’s 130 mph winds—matched two weeks later by Irma—diminished fairly quickly after Aug. 25, it languished for days as a tropical storm, producing some of the worst mass flooding ever seen in the U.S.
The magnitude of destruction and human displacement was compounded by the large population in the storm’s path. At press time, officials were estimating that more than 90,000 homes in Texas alone had been damaged or destroyed, and the death toll stood at more than 60.
Businesses and vehicles were lost, as were possessions ranging from family mementos to important legal documents. Even two weeks after the storm, some 13 percent of U.S. oil refining capacity was offline, and it was unclear how quickly those refineries would again be operational. Then, as floodwaters began to recede, other problems emerged: Chemicals at a plant in Crosby began to combust explosively when they could no longer be refrigerated. The city of Beaumont’s drinking water went out. Port Arthur ran low on food.
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The disaster, however, brought a heroic response from a “Cajun Navy” of civilian rescuers, as many brought their own boats to ferry thousands to safety. The state of Texas deployed its entire 12,000-member National Guard; Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard members were also deployed to help. President Donald Trump promised a multi-billion-dollar recovery package and proclaimed a national day of prayer for Sunday, Sept. 3.
A Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief unit and several Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplains arrived in Victoria, 100 miles southwest of metropolitan Houston, near where Harvey made landfall, on Monday, Aug. 28, as torrential rain continued to fall. The disaster relief units are tractor-trailers, stocked with emergency relief equipment and supplies used by the army of Samaritan’s Purse volunteers from across the country.
Several additional centers followed as areas became accessible, and the RRT set up Mobile Ministry Centers where people could come to talk and pray. The RRT Mobile Ministry Centers (MMC) are 40-foot disaster response vehicles that have been deployed to floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, shootings, civil unrest and terrorist attacks. Their purpose is to provide a ministry center for prayer, chaplain, church and government meetings, and a respite for First Responders. In several disasters, an MMC has also served as the Emergency Operation Center for local government officials when no other structure was available to coordinate the disaster recovery.
Chaplain Ray Thompson reported Aug. 30 from Victoria: “Today the Mobile Ministry Center has been overwhelmed. A line of people has been waiting to get in. People are just broken—completely broken. My eyes fill up with tears seeing the people lined up for prayer.”
By Sept. 12, chaplains reported that they had prayed with more than 8,100 people, and 206 had made first-time commitments to Jesus Christ.
“While this storm disrupted their lives in a major way and destroyed so much, their hearts were open to the truth of God’s message and they made that life-changing decision. Now their souls have been saved for eternity,” Franklin Graham said.
BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse leaders expect that the deployment will last for months. Samaritan’s Purse volunteers numbered in the thousands, working out of five sites. More than 117 RRT chaplains worked alongside the Samaritan’s Purse teams at those sites and also ministered at several emergency shelters and to law enforcement in Houston and in Rockport.
Vice President Mike Pence visited the region Aug. 31 and, along with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, helped remove debris from a home where Samaritan’s Purse volunteers were working. “Our top priority now is dealing with Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath and making sure that the people of Texas and this region have the resources and the support they need,” Pence said. Abbott issued a proclamation declaring Sunday, Sept. 3, as a day of prayer in Texas.
“I’m so grateful that Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, came today, to help and to volunteer,” Franklin said. “Just to work on someone’s home and encourage someone’s family. You don’t know what that means to them.
“We want to go and we want to be there in people’s time of need,” Franklin added, “helping them in the Name of Jesus Christ to put their lives back together again.”
Irma Leaves Destructive Wake
Hurricane Irma became the second category 4 hurricane to strike the U.S. mainland this year when it made landfall in south Florida in September. It was the first time two category 4 storms have hit the continental U.S. in the same year.
Millions of Floridians evacuated ahead of Irma, only two weeks after Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain on greater Houston. Irma’s massive size left a trail of destruction, claiming 35 lives in the Caribbean islands, at least six in Florida, three in Georgia and one in South Carolina, by early estimates. After hitting the Florida Keys on Sept. 10, and then Marco Island, Fla., hours later, the storm moved up the west coast of the state.
By the morning of Sept. 11, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved toward Georgia.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association had more than 100 Rapid Response Team chaplains ready to deploy in the storm’s aftermath. Disaster relief teams from Samaritan’s Purse were also preparing for days of ministry on the ground in Florida, while continuing its ministry in the Caribbean. Irma’s arrival came on the heels of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, where massive flooding caused destruction and loss of life during the last week of August.
“This morning my prayers are with the many who are waking up to their homes and businesses devastated by Irma’s wind and water,” Franklin Graham said on his Facebook page after Irma made landfall in Florida. “They will now be facing an overwhelming clean-up. Reports say up to 5.5 million people are without power in Florida. I pray especially for those who have lost loved ones in the storm. I know they would appreciate your prayers as well.”
Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham RRT ministry, said: “The destructive power of Hurricane Irma, especially on the immediate heels of Hurricane Harvey, reminds us of how fragile our lives really are. I ask you to join us in praying for all of those who are in the path of this storm, many of whom will spend months or years—perhaps even the rest of their lives—trying to work through the physical and emotional suffering they will endure.
“We’ll be there to offer the hope and comfort of Jesus Christ as they begin to find their ‘new normal.’”