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Hurricane Harvey: A Community Rebuilds and a Dentist Discovers the Spirit of the People

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 1:02pm -- Editor

You’ve heard the reports and seen images of the damage that was left in wake of the devastating hurricanes that rocked locations across the southern US and in Puerto Rico. If you’re like most of the country, you followed the stories of destruction and despair, through your TV, tablet, or phone screen. Disturbing images emerged of fully flooded communities, leveled neighborhoods, and people trapped inside their homes without running water or electricity for weeks on end. Many of us watched these events unfold from the comfort of our living rooms or air-conditioned office space. However, for some members of our dental community, the distress was experienced first-hand.

Dr. Brooks Haney, a native Texan, practices in Richardson, TX  and has family and a home in Port Aransas, a small coastal town located on Mustang Island on the Texas coast. He heard about the damage that occurred from his sister. With a full patient load the following week and his son’s wedding less than two weeks away, he began moving and cancelling patients, loading up a supplies trailer, and planning to get down to his family as soon as possible.Below is the full interview with Dr. Haney who provides his first-hand account of the damage, clean-up efforts, and humanitarian support his community experienced as they weathered Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath together:

OsteoReady:      When you heard about the damage to your town from your sister, it sounds like you sprung in to action quickly. Why did you feel you needed to be involved with everything else you had going on?

Dr. Haney:          The island was closed with no access and was very limited at first, only letting a few people on to the island. Our friend went around and took pictures of  the neighborhood and sent emails and text messages. We were able to see pictures of the properties and we realized how severe the damage was... With  no power or water and the effects of the tidal surge still present, I knew that in order to provide help we would have to pack trailer-loads of tools, supplies, food and water. My son had just had a tool shower for his upcoming wedding so those came in handy. We needed every bit of it. We loaded up and drove down. 

OsteoReady:      When you arrived and saw first-hand the devastation, what was your reaction?

Dr. Haney:          When we got there, it was sickening. It was so strange because we drove in to Corpus Christi, that was the closest place we found to stay. The ferry from Corpus (Christi) to Port Aransas had been blown out. It won’t be operational for a while. The only way to get there is over a causeway from Corpus. When we got to Corpus Christi it looked like we were back home in Dallas. It was undamaged. Then we drove straight on and the closer we got to Port Aransas it got worse and worse and when we pulled in to Port Aransas it looked like a bomb had gone off. The devastation was absolute. We drove up to the house where my family was working and the debris was waist high. The water was down to a muddy mess. We were all wearing boots because of the mud. The smell would really bother you. It was a very heavy sulfur smell.…... You hated to touch anything, so we had bunches of gloves …. We couldn’t even get in to the doors of the place due to all the debris that had been strewn about. It took three of us, my brother in law, son, and I before it would move from in front of the door and were able to finally get in to the place. Then we started seeing the damage, how high the water had been, and how bad it really was. The water line on the wall was a little over my head and I’m 6’2. It was apparently just a muddy, murky mess and it must have been coming at a high pace because we found things like… You know when you go to a 7-11 or Stop and Go and they have those outdoor ice chests? We found those all over the island and they would be just crashed right through your house. They were like wrecking balls. Same thing with power lines and timbers…. the water had such a power it would take a telephone pole right through a house and then right out the other side and keep on going. 

OsteoReady:      You likened the damage you saw to a bomb going off. Where do you even start with the rebuilding effort?

Dr. Haney:          Everything was ruined. Every couch, every chair, every TV, every appliance. Everything electrical. Everything was underwater.…….we knew mold would set in. It took us forever to get all the furniture out ….then we had to get the mud out. The only way to get it out was to scoop it. We brought these long scooping shovels and we were scooping it out and loading it into barrels. They told us to take everything and dump it across the street. The pile across the street from us was very high. Then we started taking down the sheetrock. It’s all going to be very costly. Most of the people down there didn’t have flood insurance. My family didn’t either. It was considered a flood because it was a storm surge. My grandfather bought the property and built most of the properties where we are in the 1950s. They had never had a flood this high so insurance didn’t really seem important. We had windstorm insurance, so some will be covered, but anything for the flood is not covered. It’s going to be a big problem for a lot of those people down there. I don’t know how they are going to do it. A lot of them are older, they don’t have the family support. Some of the houses are just sitting there boarded up. It takes a lot of money and they don’t have the resources to do it themselves. 

OsteoReady:      We’ve heard a lot about the Texas Strong community effort and the humanitarian support that was present during the aftermath. What did you see?

Dr. Haney:          There is an interesting story I must share to this point - There are two ladies that run an RV trailer lot for us across the street from the houses. They had come back to try to start cleaning, trying to pick up the debris and they were exhausted, physically exhausted. They had already been to the doctor once to have some steroid injections just to give them some energy. One of them was telling me that she was saying a prayer to “please give me some sort of help” and she said just a minute later this small little lady walked around the corner and said, “Do you need some help?” and she just looked up to heaven and said thank you, yes we desperately, desperately need some help. The lady disappeared back around the corner and came back with about 15 teenagers from a church in San Antonio. They had rented a bus and came to help and just started working like crazy, carrying debris and helping.

Same thing happened to us one day when we were repairing roofs. We were just exhausted, physically whipped. Another group came up to us from St. Angelo and said, “do you need some help?”  It was 3-4 adults and 10-12 students. It was amazing how much more quickly the clearing worked when we had that kind of help.

We would be working on the roof, my son and I, and someone would drive by in a car and say, “do you need any water?” They had a trunk full of water, and they’d pull water out of their car or a Powerade and throw it up to the roof and keep driving, looking for other people who needed help. Same thing with food, people would drive down the street and they had hot dogs. Believe me we took it because we didn’t have any food in there, there was no way to keep it.

It was all Texas volunteers from churches and some local business from the community, football teams, people from all different parts of Texas.

There was an unbelievable picture on the news, it looks like a bomb went off. It’s right behind one of our houses. It’s of a 70-year-old school teacher’s home. She had wind and storm insurance up until this year, but she ran short on funds so she cancelled her insurance this year, so she had no insurance at all. She showed up and it will just make you cry. A lot of people would just cry because of the damage. Because of social media, word spread, and within a short amount of time a bunch of her old students started showing up because she had been a teacher on the island for so long. Before you knew it, she had a crew over there helping with chainsaws and tools. It was amazing. She had a swimming pool and the swimming pool was full top to bottom with drawers and fences, chairs, and just debris. They had to pull out that stuff out. All these volunteers were there to help her. 

OsteoReady:      Did you ever feel alone while you were doing this?

Dr. Haney:          Not really. I went down there because I used to go down there as a kid. My grandfather built these houses and then my dad took it over and my son and I knew we had to get down there. I didn’t feel alone because my wife, son, sister, and brother-in-law were there with us. There were 5 of us working together supporting each other. We would take a break occasionally just to have some water because we were exhausted. I never felt alone. There was always someone there. I felt a little bit like Port Aransas didn’t get the press because we got a different part of the storm. We didn’t get the flood damage from the rain, we got the damage from the power surge. I hope that people don’t forget them because its’ going to be years rebuilding.

OsteoReady:      When did you leave to come back to your practice and what was your feeling as you left?

Dr.Haney:           We left Monday about noon, just over a week since the storm had come through. My son’s fiancé was a nervous wreck because we were now less than one week away from their wedding and she was afraid he would break a leg or something. We got back over to the house Monday morning to repair and board up some windows before we left and drove back Monday night. I hated to leave so badly. There are so many people that needed help.…It’s amazing what a bunch of people can do together. It was hard for me to leave. My wife knew I wanted to stay so badly ……… It’s hard to leave because everything is normal where I live. I mean 25 miles away from Port Aransas people were swimming, and fishing, and going out to eat.  Yet 25 miles from that is total devastation. …….We even saw some people driving in to the community on Saturday with surf boards. I guess they thought there were going to surf. When they got there, they probably just hung their heads and cried or maybe they started volunteering, but I don’t think anybody surfed. Again, it wasn’t getting the press that it should be getting.

OsteoReady:    If you had to share one memory that really stands out to you about this what would it be?

Dr. Haney:          I got the five of us huddled together and said “This is a memory we will have our whole lives. You will never forget seeing this and there is no way you can communicate this to somebody. There is no way they will understand it. They won’t have seen it in the condition it was in.”  We saw it because we cleaned it up so much. It was just that feeling of how it bonded us. I was so proud of my son and my wife for how hard they worked. They never stopped and never complained. Just that memory of how it brought us together. We didn’t have anything but love and support for one another. Everyone was covered stinky and smelly and yet we were there to support one another. That feeling of family unity and being there to support one another. It’s hard to describe to someone else

OsteoReady:    Is there somewhere that people can donate if they want to help with the disaster relief efforts?

Dr. Haney:      There is. There is one that is specific for Port Aransas. The Port Aransas Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund will go straight to people in Port Aransas

I was truly amazed and thrilled with how quickly people went back to work. It was such a filthy, dirty mess and it was starting to look a little better since we left. People are tough. I am amazed at the spirit of the people.

 

To donate to the Port Aransas Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund please visit https://www.youcaring.com/portaransastexasresidentsbusinesscommunity-919189

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