Eastern Iowans in Texas reminded of local flooding devastation

The Iowa Red Cross has sent 20 volunteers to help with disaster relief

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As massive rainfall continues to devastate southern Texas, Eastern Iowans now in the Lone Star state say the scene can’t but help evoke memories of flooding that has imperiled communities here.

The toll in the Texas catastrophe, of course, is almost indescribably worse than the historic 2008 Eastern Iowa floods.

While no one died in Cedar Rapids when floodwaters struck then, the death count in the wake of Hurricane Harvey is at nine so far.

And while the Army Corps of Engineers estimated the property and economic damages to Cedar Rapids at about $5 billion from the 2008 flood, Bloomberg estimates the damage from Harvey will reach $30 billion — or far more.

While the scales are vastly different, the scenes of individuals coping with the disaster bring back bad memories to Brandy Hoover of Cedar Rapids, who is now stranded in Houston.

She had lived in an apartment behind the now-close Cooper’s Mill Hotel in 2008 when her apartment flooded.

“I pretty much got out with the clothes on my back, my cat and a heart (shaped) stand that used to be my grandmother’s that I could carry,” she said. “Watching people go through this is just heartbreaking. I get to leave this, and they don’t.”

Hoover was stuck Monday in a downtown Houston Marriott with her daughter, son-in-law and infant grandson. The group intended to vacation in San Antonio, Texas, but never made it and have been in the Houston hotel since Wednesday.

“We were going to leave early and everyone was going, ‘It’s OK, it’s supposed to totally miss us. We’re going to get some rain and some wind, but that’s it,’” she said. “Now we’re stuck until Thursday at least.”

Hoover said her family is safe, as their hotel is on one of the few streets not flooded in the city. Officials are bringing more stranded Houstonites in each day, and Hoover said the rescuers, many staying at the hotel, deserve praise.

“These people do care,” she said. “They’re working so hard and so effortlessly to make sure these people are getting the things they need. They’re out there working 12-15 hour days non-stop rescuing people. If they’re a little cross with you, it’s OK, they’re trying everything they can.”

The Iowa Red Cross said 20 volunteers from here are in or were en route to the region.

Michael Gee, 32, of Iowa City, said he began volunteering with the Red Cross after he realized the impact it had as hundreds of people came together last September to stave off a flood that threatened Cedar Rapids.

Gee, a Navy corpsman who has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times, is part of the Iowa Red Cross’ disaster relief. This is his first time volunteering for the Red Cross out of the state.

After being dispatched Saturday, Gee is helping set up a central shelter in a convention center Austin, Texas, as much of Houston is inaccessible.

Iowa Red Cross organizers “were looking for as many volunteers as they can get because it’s a large disaster,” Gee said. “I answered the call Saturday and they emailed me back on Saturday afternoon, saying I had a flight. Initially, we were supposed to fly into Houston, but flights were canceled as we were arriving at the gate, rerouted twice.”

Gee said volunteers in Austin are preparing for thousands of evacuees.

“Hopefully we can get them a place to sleep, food for their belies and hopefully a warm shower,” he said. “There’s a lot of people saying they just don’t have a lot of place to go and they’re just happy they’re here. We help everybody.”

More than 1,400 people stayed throughout 24 Red Cross and community shelters in Texas on Friday night, according to an Iowa Red Cross news release. And though many are finding shelter, conditions for volunteers in the area still are unstable, Gee said.

“I was talking to folks that were already there in Houston, and they said they kept having to hide in the shelters — in the process of trying to feed everyone — because of all the tornado sirens going off,” he said.

For those in Eastern Iowa who know the suffering flooding brings, Gee said they could consider donating.

“Everything that we’re doing, from flights to supplies, it all comes from donor funds,” Gee said. “If they wanted to get involved with trying to raise donations to help out, that would be good.”

If you want to help, some information according to Texas Monthly:

-To donate to the Red Cross Hurricane Harvey relief: Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

-To donate to The Salvation Army, go to helpsalvationarmy.org, call 1-800- SAL-ARMY or text STORM to 51555.

-To donate to Food Banks:

Houston Food Bank, 832-369-9390, houstonfoodbank.org

Galveston Food Bank, 409-945-4232, galvestoncountyfoodbank.org

Food Bank of the Golden Crescent (Victoria), 361-578-0591, victoriafoodbank.org

Corpus Christi Food Bank, 361-887-6291, foodbankcc.com

-To help those with medical needs:

Donate to Portlight at portlight.org to help those with disabilities

Donate to Direct Relief USA at directrelief.org to provide prescription drugs and medical supplies

-To help animals:

Visit SPCA of Houston at spca.org/news_hurricane-harvey

l Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

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