Dear Friends in Christ:
We give thanks to the Lord for his mercy, his constant love and for his many blessings. While we mourn for those lives lost and for the families that grieve them, we thank God that so many more were spared and are safe. While we have broken hearts for all those who lost homes and suffered such great loss and damage due to the hurricane and flood, we are grateful that we are safe and that the recovery has begun so swiftly. We thank God for the incredible spirit of so many willing to help their neighbors when in need, our fellow Texans and those who traveled from afar. Yes, while this was a disaster of historic proportions, the goodness of so many cannot be diminished or overlooked.
Normally, SJV is quick to mobilize and come to the aid of those in disaster situations. This time however, we found ourselves on the receiving end of the aid and assistance. Almost every neighborhood in the parish was affected by flooding from the rains of Hurricane Harvey or from the
release of water from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. Houses that have never flooded were under water, people were having to be rescued by boat, others were left stranded facing rising waters in the dark and many had to escape and flee from their homes searching for shelter. Terrifying does not begin to describe what so many had to face. Here at the parish campus, we were fortunate in many ways. On Sunday morning, we had some leaks in the church and some water in the rectory. We were able to have masses for the 40-50 brave
souls who made it through the downpour for each of the morning masses. By Sunday night, the detention ponds and parking lots were all overflowing from the relentless rain. Close to midnight, Frs. Clark, Chuck and I stood outside the offices during the torrential rain watching the waters rise. At that point, the waters were within inches of rushing into and flooding all of our buildings. Miraculously by 5:00 a.m. Monday, the waters slowly began to recede. We could see from the debris line that we missed being flooded by just an inch in a number of places! A few hours later, with Buffalo Bayou over its banks and the rain still falling, The Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to keep the dams of the reservoirs from breeching, began to release water from the reservoirs. Soon, the neighborhood began to flood, including our property. Nearby homes of parishioners and neighbors were being swallowed up by the flood waters inch by inch and minute by minute. Neighbors were helping neighbors evacuate, others were going door to door to warn of the rising waters. The barbeque hut, garden shed and gazebo along with the playground and maintenance yard all went under water. Within a day, the flood water poured over the deck of the Activity Center which was surrounded on all sides by water, but it did not enter the building. Again, by one inch!
The lights went out on Monday afternoon. This made it challenging to communicate. However, the cell phones were still working and we did our best to reach out to as many parishioners as we could. Social media and texting were incredible in helping us communicate. Eventually, we were able to update our webpage even though our server was down and e-mail was impossible. As most of our staff and volunteer leaders who coordinate our disaster response were themselves victims of the flood, this hampered but did not stop our efforts. Even with our leadership disabled, other parishioners, ministry leaders and staff picked up the slack in reaching out to aid and assist in the parish neighborhoods and across town as best they could.
Having no power and severe flooding on our property meant that we could not serve as a shelter or effectively organize volunteer efforts from our campus. However, CenterPoint Energy contacted us on Wednesday and our campus became the epi-center of the recovery efforts to bring electricity back to the thousands of area homes and businesses that were without power. What started out as a few trucks and workers grew to more than 150 utility workers, technicians, communication specialists, and engineers on our site by Friday. Our campus looked like the beach head of the Normandy Invasion with so many trucks, boats, cherry pickers, tractor trailers, big rigs and other heavy equipment!
By Saturday, the numbers grew even more with command tents and equipment popping up like mushrooms on all parts of the property. The CenterPoint workers were able to transport and connect a mobile emergency substation on our parking lot to replace the one flooded and several feet underwater. Utility poles sprung out of the ground like giant corn stalks overnight. Linemen, like high wire acrobats, ran new power lines to connect to existing power lines in the area. At the same time, our campus was also being used as a boat launch by Homeland Security for the rescue boats navigating the neighborhood and the bayou. Each morning and evening there was the roar of the air boats taking off and coming back in. There were rescue teams from as far away as Kansas and Oklahoma launching by the classroom buildings. Throughout the day, the sky was filled with Coast Guard and military helicopters along with a fleet of drones hovering and keeping watch of the flood waters and the work of the rescue and recovery crews. With all of this activity on site, those leading the recovery efforts advised that it would not be safe to allow people on the property.
Reluctantly, but with a desire for the safety of all and so as not to impede the efforts of those working in the rescue and recovery efforts, I made the decision to cancel Sunday masses at St. John Vianney.
The power came back on for many of us sooner than the CenterPoint people originally told us, thank goodness! But we know the overall recovery and rebuilding is going to take a much longer time. Houston and Texas are strong and we will bounce back. Yet, our community has never
endured something so massive, disruptive and devastating to so many. While we are nowhere near grasping the full extent of the damages and what it will take to rebuild, we are confident that we will recover.
Just as it will take time to assess and repair the physical damages to buildings, bridges, dams and roads, it will also take to time to deal with the emotional trauma that all of us have undergone. We cannot underestimate the stress and anxiety that each and every one of us have had to endure during these days and in the days and weeks to come. There will be some immediate emotional responses and there will also be some delayed responses. Depression, anger, guilt, lack of concentration, feelings of helplessness, lethargy, confusion, irritability, sleeplessness, change or loss of appetite, mental, emotional and physical numbness, anxiety, increased alcohol consumption, lack of physical intimacy, feelings of isolation, doubt, fear, inappropriate humor or actions are among some of the normal symptoms that can surface when we have encountered such a dramatic and terrifying event. These reactions can also be intensified due to a prolonged time of enduring the catastrophe. These feelings affect everyone from young children to senior citizens. None of us are exempt. Having such feelings is not a sign of emotional weakness or a weakness of faith. These feelings merely indicate that we are human beings and that each of us, no matter how strong, self-assured or faith filled is still vulnerable when faced with such a tremendous event that we cannot control. Despite our many skills, abilities, talents or our faith, none of us can control a hurricane or flood. None of us are invincible or all powerful, but God is. We must each deal with our emotions in healthy and appropriate ways. We have to honestly acknowledge and face our emotions. We have to put them in the proper perspective. We need to see and acknowledge the real threat and the real good. It is also vitally important that we support one another as we all go through these feelings in our own ways and at our own pace. As people of faith, we came to the aid of each other in times of physical peril, so too, we need to be there for one another during the emotional and spiritual aftermath. As the Lord was truly with us during these times of need, he continues to be with us. Now, we must turn to him again and with great faith, place ourselves, our hurts, fears, questions, and emotions in his strong but gentle hands. We must entrust our loved ones to the Lord and Our Blessed Mother.
As Jesus once calmed the wind and the waves for the disciples when they were frightened and afraid on the Sea of Galilee, he can and will calm our restless hearts and minds. Just keep your eyes and hearts fixed on the Lord and keep moving closer to him!
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately