Area residents team up to help hurricane victims

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A Harvey survivor summed it up best: “God bless you for doing this. We’ve lost everything, and this will help us.”

Area residents have been helping in any way they can — from taking boats down to area affected by Hurricane Harvey to rescue stranded people, to holding drives to raise funds and necessary items, to feeding people.

While the rains and flooding may be over, the need remains. Madisonville is answering the call.

In the words of Walker’s Café owner Angela Culbreth: “We’re taught to be the hands and feet of Christ.”

These aren’t all the stories. There’s too many tales of altruism to fit in a newspaper. But these stories serve to remind people that the residents of Madison County are second to none, and that when the need arises, Texas and Madisonville answer the call.

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There are 14 families living in Madisonville motels that have been displaced by the hurricane. Angela Culbreth has been feeding them without charge.

“We’ve had people coming in off the street, and in talking with them, found out they’ve been displaced, and we wouldn’t let them pay,” she said. “They would walk out of here in tears.”

After being closed on Aug. 28, Culbreth said she came in the following day and heard about displaced families, and after seeking a small donation from Sonny Knight, she decided to feed the families breakfast.

“There was nothing else we could do — we couldn’t go down there and rescue people,” she said. “We’re doing what we’ve been called to do.”

On Aug. 29 her Facebook page, Culbreth wrote: “I have no words. We fed so many people in need today. Most were from a trailer park in Crosby. They were given 30 minutes to get out. They were so kind. They even wanted to clean their own tables and wash their dishes. This community loves each other so much. Walker’s did not do this alone — people gave money, washed dishes even answered the phones!”

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Eric Clapp was in the Katy area assisting with rescue efforts.

“The flooding was horrific; the damage was mostly cause from massive flooding,” he said. “The water was still rising while we were there. It rose about a foot and a half.”

Clapp said he and others helped about 20-30 people, ferrying evacuees from deeper water to shallower water where buses and trucks could shuttle them out the rest of the way.

“When we first arrived, many people did not want to leave, but towards the end of the day people finally realized that they needed to get out,” he said. “The mood was grim for the people that lost everything, but all of the volunteers as well as state and federal agencies were working together. Everyone felt like they were all working towards the same goal regardless of race or if you were Fire Department, cop, DEA or FEMA. It didn't matter.”

Clapp said he did it because Texas is a great state that takes care of its own.

“When it comes down to it, regardless of political views, race or gender ethnicity, deep down we all bleed red and we all claim Texas,” he said.

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Hannah Poe was taking 16 residents from Woodhaven Village Senior Living Center in Conroe to safety when she and the evacuated residents stopped at Buc-ee’s for a pit stop on the way to Dallas.

“Madison County Sheriff's Office, Madisonville PD and Madisonville Fire Department all came to help us head north,” she said. “Not only were we escorted safely in and out with our large convoy of six vehicles, but these men and women also helped us unload, transport patients to the bathroom, and lift and reload our residents, all the while keeping vehicles out of the walking path across the parking lot.”

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Scott Williams of Covenant Fellowship Church in Huntsville came to Madisonville on Thursday for a Stuff the Bus campaign.

“We wanted to help some kind of way, and I got some of our youth and their parents to organize this effort to collect specific things,” he said. “Between here and Huntsville there’s a number of different shelters, and we plan to give to them.”

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Allan Jaster saw a “sea” of brown water flowing slowly through neighborhoods and apartment complexes.

He jumped in to help because it never occurred to him to do something else.

“I’ve spent 45 years watching my parents help family, neighbors and strangers; that said, my mom would have killed me if she saw the risks I took,” he said. “On (Aug.27), I got back from a trip, walked in the house, called a friend to come watch the kids and (my wife Lisa and I) got dressed and left.”

Jaster said he saw people trying to figure their way out of a catastrophe – which in this case, was impossible.

“Many were stuck between leaving their belongings and saving themselves,” he said. “Seems absurd in hindsight, but it’s difficult to think clearly in the moment. In a fire, the mind just reacts — ‘get out.’ In a slow-rising flood, you have plenty of time to overthink the issue. When you add emotion to that decision-making process it’s difficult to get to the right answer.”

In the area they worked, Jaster said the water was between 3 and 4 feet and moving briskly — especially where it was funneled by structures.

“If you couldn’t swim or were old or had a baby, and you waited until the water was up, self-evacuation was impossible,” he said.

Jaster said he mostly put people on something that floats, dragging them out through swift water, or shuttling people to a boat if they needed getting out.

“I carried cats, birds and dogs,” he said. “I hugged a LOT of strangers. I gave out my phone number to scores of people — ‘Call me if you change your mind or need help.’ Many called just to talk — some called for help to get out. I think I helped those people.”

Between his hobbies and professions, Jaster said he’s spent his life making himself useful in situations like this.

“In natural disasters or threat situations, everybody has to show their cards,” he said. “My regard for a few of my friends shifted during this past week.”

• • •

For Ivan Nacianceno, having a perfectly working boat meant there was no reason to be home.

“It just hit me,” he said. “I’m called to (help). We didn’t think twice, we just took off.”

Nacianceno said he was on the north and east sides of Houston.

“We pulled 40-plus people out of a nursing home, got all their medicines, helpers, paperwork,” he said. “We got about 200 people out of a neighborhood where the (currents) were extremely strong. It was very dangerous.”

Nacianceno said he could only imagine the shock people were feeling at the weekend’s events.

“It was heartbreaking,” he said.

Regardless, Nacianceno said he would go back as often as he could, because “we’re are the hands and feet of God.”

• • •

There are more stories of the selflessness of area residents; these few just highlight the kind of people that live here.

While these things were not done seeking praise, these actions, as were the actions of anyone who gave of themselves, are praiseworthy.

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