HOUSTON — Several local residents are loading up and making their way to Houston this week to help with the relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Floodwaters reached the rooflines of single-story homes Monday, and people could be heard pleading for help from inside as Harvey poured rain on the Houston area for a fourth consecutive day after a chaotic weekend of rising water and rescues.
The nation’s fourth-largest city remained mostly paralyzed by one of the largest downpours in U.S. history. And there was no relief in sight from the storm that spun into Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, then parked over the Gulf Coast. With nearly 2 more feet (61 centimeters) of rain expected on top of the 30-plus inches (76 centimeters) in some places, authorities worried that the worst might be yet to come.
Tyler Porter of Chipley, who is leaving for Houston on Wednesday, says the mission was simply something he was led to do.
"As Floridians, we've been there," Porter said. "We are Christians, and Americans have a duty to help others. Living in the Panhandle of Florida, this could have easily been us, and our country would help us. The Panhandle could have easily been where Texas is now, and it's in times like this, when our country is divided, that we should come together and support each other. This is something I was led to do - and an opportunity to promote love, not hate."
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan W. Koon discouraged donation drives Monday, citing Texas' "inability to deal with donations" at the moment, but Porter has coordinated with a Houston area church that has identified immediate local needs.
Porter is leaving around noon Wednesday with a 40' gooseneck trailer and hopes to make a follow-up run in three weeks.
"If we can get this thing packed out and go this first time when the need is urgent, we can go back in about three weeks when we have had time to get more coordinated.
Porter says items needed include diapers, baby formula, feminine products, water canned/non-perishable foods, medical supplies, clothes, Bibles, school supplies, and "anything that anyone thinks would be of help."
Donation drop-off locations are Bonifay City Hall, the Bonifay National Guard Armory, located on North Avenue in Bonifay, and First Baptist Church of Chipley's student center, located on South Boulevard.
While Porter is not asking for monetary donations, money can be donated to the church for the effort.
Porter may be reached at 765-810-5544.
Holmes Valley Community Church, led by Pastor Ron Lamar, has also organized a relief effort.
Titled "Reach Out to Texas," John and Teresa Drummond are spearheading the effort and are expected to leave this weekend.
John Drummond said while the disaster is heartbreaking, he agrees with Porter that the effort is an opportunity to combat the barrage of racial conflict and negativity recently reported in the national media.
“It's about love," said Teresa Drummond. "I couldn’t sit at home and watch it on TV and do nothing. This is our community. We come together - whether it's locally or outside of our community. We always make things work."
The couple is waiting to leave to give a chance for rescue efforts to work - and then hope to provide lodging in addition to supplies.
"Organizations like the American Red Cross are great, but like any organization, they have overhead, and things take time," said Teresa. "100 percent of our time and money is going specifically to the Houston area. There are only so many shelters, and these people need a place to go."
Teresa added the outpouring of support for the mission has been overwhelming, with local businesses and even students reaching out, like those from Ponce de Leon's fourth grade classes and the AVID class at Vernon High School.
Those wishing to donate to Reach Out to Texas may contact the Drummonds at 850-258-9354. Item donations are being collected. Monetary donations may be made out to Holmes Valley Community Church.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.