Heroes of Harvey

Susan Brock: The Cleanup Crew

How one woman in Meyerland forged a path through destruction

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen October 2, 2017 Published in the October 2017 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Image: Marco Torres

As soon as her Meyerland street was dry, real estate broker Susan Brock’s first task was to check on the home of her neighbor and best friend, an 86-year-old who had evacuated to Sugar Land.

“I walked in, and the couch was in the kitchen,” she recalled. “Every part of her life had been desecrated. It was like it had been in a fight. Just from seeing that, a light went on in my head: So many people—my friends, my fellow church members, everyone I see on a regular basis—are going to be devastated.”

She got to work right away—on Sunday, August 27—drawing on the experience she’d gained mobilizing for Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago and making the most of her extensive local network as well as that of Braes Interfaith Ministries, comprised of 13 churches and a synagogue. She put out the call for volunteers and supplies, managing logistics and figuring out what was needed where, including her octogenarian friend’s house.

Every morning, people would show up at her church, Willow Meadows Baptist, at 8 a.m. ready for hard work. Jeff Peters, a disaster-recovery expert Brock knew from the Katrina days, taught them which tools to use, how to rip out wet carpet, how to protect themselves from mold. But before he took the floor, it was Brock’s job to act as “hype man,” motivating volunteers. It must have worked. In six days, they trained over 1,500 people, who cleared out 300 homes.

When Houstonia spoke to her, on Labor Day, Brock was helping organize a cookout in her church parking lot featuring barbecue and burgers for anyone who was hungry. But word of local residents in dire need of help continued to come in. That day, she’d sent 40 volunteers to help clean out flooded first-floor apartments in Bellaire, most of them housing seniors. One resident in her eighties wanted to salvage her mattress, which had not been touched by floodwaters but was ridden with bugs.

“She’s not going to let us throw it out, but if we show up with a new mattress she’ll take it. So we put a call out, and within two hours people from a local Facebook group brought one, and people from the church set it up,” Brock said. “What I’ve noticed is these micro-communities, whether it’s the Westbury Garden Club or a Crossfit, they rally around a need and get it done. I’ve not seen one Red Cross truck or one FEMA employee. Everyone is just stepping up.”

Though the work in Meyerland and beyond is far from done, Brock said she’s already looking toward the future. Her next goal is to form an organization that she’s calling the Disaster Relief Coalition, designed to teach other local networks how to mobilize resources quickly, when the next flood or other crisis comes along.

“The best time to come up with a disaster plan is not in the middle of a disaster. When we rolled out, other churches were asking, ‘How do you do that? We haven’t even started, and it’s day seven,’” Brock says. “When it’s sunny and life is good, being a leader in your own life is sufficient. It works. But in times like these, it’s not enough.”

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