The Salvation Responds to Hurricanes and Other Disasters

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As the summer waned and fall began, the world was ravaged by disaster. Hurricanes and floods, fires and earthquakes headed the news. Instead of being overwhelmed, The Salvation Army was at the front of each new catastrophe, handing out hope and warm meals by the thousands.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall Friday night August 25th at 9:45 p.m. The category 4 storm, which brought unprecedented torrential rain, stretched along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi to Houston and then inland as far as Austin and San Antonio. With such a large population, there was no mandatory evacuation. Residents were told to wait out the storm where they were.

The flooding was catastrophic, forcing around 39,000 people from their homes, taking the lives of 70 people and dropping nearly 30 inches of rain within 72 hours. A rainfall of 51.88 inches was recorded near Cedar Bayou, Texas—the largest recorded total in the history of the continental U.S.

Rescue of flood victims of Hurricane Harvey.

An elderly woman is helped into a garbage truck as she evacuates from her home in Houston on August 30, 2017, as the fourth largest city in the US battled with tropical storm Harvey and resulting floods.

Dry city streets of Houston were transformed into rivers within minutes. People fled to their roofs, some cutting through with hatchets to wave to rescue crews in the air. Tens of thousands of people spent the weekend in shelters. Roads were under water or washed out and basic services like water and electricity were knocked out. The storm left more than 250,000 without power. The Houston convention center was converted into a mass shelter for thousands of displaced people. The Salvation Army provided a field kitchen which served 8,000 meals a day, in addition to sheltering 2,500 survivors of the flood.

Following on Harvey’s heels, Hurricane Irma blew into the Caribbean as a Category 5 in the early morning of September 5th with 185 mph winds, battering an estimated 1.2 million people. With such intense winds, nearly 90 percent of buildings on the islands were destroyed.

Clean-up kits are the first step toward a sense of normalcy after Hurricane Irma blew through the Carribean.

The storm moved from the Caribbean into Florida, making landfall at Cudjoe Key as a Category 4 storm on September 10th. Florida was under one of the largest evacuations in American history as officials advised those in the Keys and others to escape north: over 6.5 million people were under evacuation orders. Because the storm was 650 miles from East to West, it covered the width of the Florida peninsula and went on to impact nine states. Irma is the most intense hurricane to hit the US since Katrina in 2005.

Forecasters downgraded the storm to a Category 2 as it pushed up the mainland through Naples. There were 3.3 million homes and businesses without power, with more than a million of those affected in the Miami area. Damage from the storm is estimated at 172 billion. The Salvation Army deployed 56 canteens to the affected area and distributed over 320,000 meals.

Image of the remains of a house destroyed by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico

The remains of a house destroyed by Hurricane Maria in Naguabo, Puerto Rico on October 2, 2017.

In a matter of days after Irma, the Caribbean was again assaulted by a Category 5 storm named Maria. The Army partnered with the Dutch reform church to serve 42,000 meals and snacks, as well as provide food, water, and supply boxes to the poorest communities on the island—serving 3,500 families a day. The Army also teamed up with the Red Cross to supply residents with 13,500 bottles of water.

In the wake of the havoc from these hurricanes, on September 7th an 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck off the south coast of Mexico, causing extensive damage in the Oaxaca state. The Salvation Army was able to send two canteens as well as an officer to help oversee operations. Setting up in a town called Juchitán with 32 other churches, the army provided 21,000 meals a day for two weeks following the disaster.

Salvation Army officer walking through the rubble after earthquake in Mexico.

Earthquakes struck off the south coast of Mexico and in Mexico City.

Then, on September 19th a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City. At least 200 were reported dead. The Army dispatched two canteens and nine officers and cadets in response. and received 17 tons of donations, including food, water, and cleaning products.

As the earth reeled in the aftermath of these storms and quakes, dozens of wildfires raged across the Pacific Northwest and California. The air was filled with opaque smoke and ash. There were widespread forced evacuations and Washington was in a state of emergency. In California, the Army was supporting first responders at the largest fire in LA city history. And in Oregon, the Army was feeding displaced citizens.

Image of Wildfires in California

Wildfires raged across the Pacific Northwest and California.

On top of the fires, the flooding in Bangladesh through the end of August and into September was the most serious the country has seen in 40 years. Over the course of a few hours many parts of the country received the same amount of rain that normally comes in a week of monsoon rains. Over 700,000 homes are either totally or partially destroyed. More than 51,000 people have been relocated to shelters. Over 8 million people have been affected and at least 145 have been killed. The Army has distributed kits with food and survival supplies to 2,200 families and also received funding to start rebuilding houses for those who lost everything in the initial landslide.

Image of Salvation Army officers standing in flood waters with natives of Bangladesh.

Flooding in Bangladesh through the end of August and into September is the most serious the country has seen in 40 years.

Though the toll of each of these disasters is heavy, there is comfort in seeing neighbors, families, strangers, and friends pull together to help each other. From Texas to Florida and Puerto Rico to California, there has been an unprecedented wave of Christian goodness as people reach out to each other in love and compassion. The Salvation Army has played an important role in brining light to the darkest places.

—Jessica Curtis, Editorial Assistant, National Publications