Much of west Houston faced a different kind of flooding this morning as the city lurched back to work: massive pile-ups of traffic. Water still covers most of Memorial and the Energy Corridor, including important arteries like Highway 6 and Beltway 8. Those commuting back to work after Hurricane Harvey found themselves stuck in the same gridlock as people attempting to return to their homes and those trying to reach volunteer destinations.
Westbury United Methodist has served as a temporary shelter and, now, community center for a heavily flooded portion of southwest Houston since August 28. Each day since, Rev. Hannah Terry and her team at the church have been receiving volunteers from various organizations across the city, training them on how to assist those in affected homes and apartment buildings in the neighborhood, then sending them out across Westbury to help displaced and flooded Houstonians.
Today, however, Terry found herself unexpectedly short-staffed. "We thought we had a lot of volunteers showing up today, but with the traffic as it has been…" she said. "We’ve got the work and the lists to receive and deploy 200 people if they all showed up at once. But, I think that’s the challenge right now." Receiving people. And they weren't alone.
The gridlock caused by inundated roads and neighborhoods couldn't come at a worse time for a city attempting to recover from the worst flooding event the United States has ever seen. Across the city, dead traffic lights have only exacerbated the problem, though Mayor Sylvester Turner announced this morning on Twitter that his team was tackling those intersections as quickly as possible.
"Number of city traffic signals out of order is down to 73, or 3 percent of total," wrote Turner. "Crews working. Please be patient."
Though the flooding in west Houston is expected to affect traffic in the area for up to two weeks, Terry says that any and all volunteer efforts will be needed throughout the city for many months to come. After the Memorial Day floods, Westbury UMC served as a community center and relief point for nine months; recovery from Harvey will undoubtedly take much longer.
"Thursday and Friday our work crews will be working from 10 to 5 and then on Saturday we’ll be doing it from 8:30 to 5," she says of their more immediate needs. "Sunday, we'll be working 1 to 5."
And in the coming months, Westbury UMC and its associated non-profit, Fondren Assistance Ministries, will continue to need volunteers to assist with cleaning and repairing homes as well as apartment complexes—of which there are thousands of units in the greater Westbury area.
Within these low-income units are hundreds of elderly residents and refugees, many of whom were already living on the fringes before Hurricane Harvey hit. "A lot of them will say they’re good but they're really not," says Terry. "Receiving help is a hurdle—being willing to receive that. Some people think someone else has it worse; well, not really—we’re all in this together."