In the Eye of the Hurricane

 

Tom Zampieri, District 6 Director of the Blinded Veterans Association in Texas had received a donation of tickets to the September 1st Astros baseball game against the New York Mets. He was looking forward to going with other BVA members.

But a storm was brewing, and soon everyone in Houston knew trouble was coming. Hurricanes are a fact of life in the South, but, we can all agree, this year was “unusual.” Tom shared the experience:

Harvey shattered all records in America, showering 52.4 inches of rain over just four days concentrated in a few hundred miles of our coast line. It was the highest ever recorded by the National Weather Service. It flooded 130,000 homes, roads, highways and businesses, and cost 70 people their lives.

The Greater Houston Regional Group of BVA was in ground zero of this storm for five days with 45 mph winds and 790 billion gallons of rainfall within the first three days. This was equivalent to collecting all the water going over Niagara Falls for 15 days and dumping it on the Houston area!

First responders, fire, police, coast guardsmen and volunteers were working non-stop to rescue everyone caught in the rising floodwaters. Suddenly, 6 million people, including 1,800 blind or low vision veterans in this small area, were caught in Harvey’s grasp. BVA members were among those being flooded out of their homes and moved to evacuation centers.

The task of rebuilding shattered lives from the flooding started immediately. In accordance with our motto “Blinded Veterans Helping Blinded Veterans,” we set out to offer emergency relief in the form of cash cards to those blinded veterans in need. Some refused, saying, “There are others who need it more than me.” But for others, it came just in time. On top of the flood damage to their home, Houston BVA member Richard Douglas’ wife had to have surgery. He wrote, “I personally, would like to say THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. You cannot know how badly we needed the $100 BVA gift card. With Jocelyn unable to work as of late, and now in the hospital, things have been a bit tight. There is still a steep hill to climb, but your efforts have helped me to get started upward.”

We knew that no one organization would be able to do everything, but by working in cooperation, we could bring together the expertise of organizations that could help our fellow blinded veterans and their families. We coordinated with city, county, state and federal agency programs and with other nonprofits. We brought together FEMA, the Red Cross and the Mayor’s office, as well as others involved in emergency disaster relief to a special meeting with some of our local BVA members and other blind veterans and their families on September 9th. Our veterans got help filling out FEMA paperwork so they could get relief as soon as possible. We got special phone numbers so that blind veterans could get the type of help they needed if they were displaced in any way.

We really appreciate everyone who donated and volunteered to assist our blinded veterans and their families during this emergency. It may take years to restore people’s lives, but we will be there!