Category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the state of Texas in the United States on 25th August 2017, causing massive damage to properties and public infrastructure in its destructive wake. Catastrophic flooding triggered by the hurricane inundated the city of Houston, the most populous city in Texas and the fourth-most populous city in the country.
According to the indications of the US National Weather Services (NWS), over a period of about three months, from 1st June to 27th August, the cumulative rainfall in Houston reached 1,200 millimeters, a massive volume that is equivalent to a whole year’s rainfall. The NWS estimated that it would take the city several years to fully recover from the infrastructural damage wrought by the cataclysmic hurricane.
According to estimates, the economic cost of Hurricane Harvey could spike as high as USD180 billion. In the aftermath, the roads in Houston City were heavily flooded, and traffic was blocked in many areas. The local rescue teams had to rely on dinghies and motor boats to carry out their search and rescue operations, and Tzu Chi volunteers in the US have also started relief work on the ground.
On the morning of 28th August, Tzu Chi’s Taiwan headquarters, together with Tzu Chi’s US headquarters and its Texas and Dallas chapters, linked up via video conferencing, to discuss about organising flood relief in the disaster zones. The Foundation hoped to ensure that manpower and relief supplies could be timely dispatched to the disaster areas after the flood waters retreated.
Warm Blankets for Hurricane Survivors
In Dallas, Texas, emergency shelters had been set up after the storm, to receive flood victims. The largest shelter was the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, which is located within the city centre and estimated to hold more than 5,000 people. The Center approached Tzu Chi for 5,500 blankets. However, in consideration that many of the flood victims were still stuck in the flooded areas and had not yet arrived in Dallas, CEO of Tzu Chi Dallas Lin Ji Cheng negotiated with the shelter to provide 2,800 blankets first.
Upon receiving instructions, Tzu Chi volunteers in Dallas immediately started to prepare the first consignment of blankets (made of recycled yarn). They even included little cards that gave a simple explanation about the making of the blanket while at the same time communicated Tzu Chi’s love and well wishes for those affected by the disaster.
Lin said, “We will do our best to comfort them while they are seeking shelter here and to make the environment comfortable and cozy for them.”
When Tzu Chi volunteers delivered the blankets to the shelter, staff from the city government and the Red Cross stood at the entrance to welcome them. Many of them recalled that in the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike ten years ago, volunteers from Tzu Chi Dallas had also offered care and assistance to the emergency shelter.
A Relay of Love
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, Tzu Chi quickly activated its emergency rescue procedures in response to the humanitarian crisis. An emergency consignment of 580 boxes of additive-free instant rice was sent from Tzu Chi’s Taiwan headquarters to Taoyuan International Airport for customs processing, before it was shipped to the United States, with the aid of China Airlines and EVA Air. The entire process, starting from the packing of rice to the transporting of the emergency supplies, was akin to a relay of love. Taking into consideration of dietary preferences in the US, this batch of emergency rice was primarily of golden corn and (Italian) tomato flavours.
Taking to the Streets to Fundraise for Hurricane Relief
On the first weekend of September, Tzu Chi volunteers throughout the US took to the streets to raise funds for the victims of the catastrophic storm. There were more than 200 fundraising locations across the US, and their addresses are all listed out on the Tzu Chi USA website.
The Tzu Chi volunteers in Boston also walked the streets to raise funds for the hurricane victims, and while doing so, witnessed the kindness and generosity of the American public. In particular, a young man who was busking on a street in Chinatown generously donated his hard-earned tips from playing drums to passers-by, into a volunteer’s donation box.
An elderly lady, who was initially suspicious of the street fundraiser, had deposited only USD1 into the donation box. But a volunteer took advantage of this kind act, and introduced Tzu Chi and the organisation’s work to her, even handing her a copy of the Tzu Chi Monthly magazine. The lady sat on a bench nearby to read the magazine, while also observing the volunteers with the donation boxes. Shortly after, she approached them again and deposited USD20 into the donation box before leaving the place.
A resident who had moved to Boston from Houston saw Tzu Chi volunteers raising funds for his hometown folks, and was deeply moved to take a group photo with the latter. And some of the residents were able to recognize the volunteers as members of Tzu Chi, which had previously provided aid to Hurricane Sandy’s survivors. They specially walked to the volunteers to make their donations, and shared that even though they had already donated to other charitable organisations earlier, they wished to donate again, to Tzu Chi.
Tawa Supermarket is a supermarket chain across the US. The chain operator made arrangements with 51 of its nation-wide stores, to allow volunteers in various states to raise funds for Harvey victims at their storefronts. The fundraising efforts generated so much interest that even the employees of the stores came out to support the cause.
A group of former flood affectees from the Northern California city of San Jose specially went to the Tzu Chi office in Northern California, to make donations to the hurricane survivors. They had received Tzu Chi’s aid previously, and even though they had not completely re-settled into their new homesteads, they expressed their desire to help the Texas flood victims. Among the group were a couple of elderly folks aged 91 and 88 respectively, who had braved the searing afternoon sun to travel to the office to personally deposit their contributions.
Ecuador Takes the Lead in Reaching Out to Harvey Survivors
Hurricane Harvey took a deadly toll on the state of Texas, creating record-breaking floods. According to estimates by the Texas Department of Public Safety, more than 185,000 homes were damaged by the storm, with close to 9,000 homes obliterated, and tens of thousands of people displaced.
In such trying times, people from all walks of life responded to the urgent call for help. Apart from the US, Tzu Chi volunteers in other countries around the world have also embarked on fundraising efforts. The relatively impoverished residents in Ecuador, located in South America, were among the first to respond to this humanitarian crisis with their own fundraising efforts.
The coastal town of Canoa in Ecuador experienced its own harrowing earthquake disaster in 2016, and received aid from Tzu Chi’s US volunteers in the aftermath. In April of this year, Ecuador suffered another major flood disaster, and once again the volunteers from the US came forward to provide flood relief. Thus, these Ecuadorian residents carried gratitude for the latter’s acts of kindness in their hearts, and when local Tzu Chi volunteers learned about the hurricane calamity in the US, they quickly started organising fundraisers to help those affected. Their collective compassionate efforts encapsulated the Ecuadorean people’s gratitude for the US Tzu Chi volunteers’ continued care and companionship, while also serving as a sign of their sincere blessing for the disaster victims.
On 30th August, a group of Ecuadorean Tzu Chi volunteers and Catholic sisters rallied together to make donation boxes, in preparation for the fundraising drives. On 2nd September, under the lead of local volunteers, fundraisers were held in Canoa and Pisloy.
The Ecuadorean volunteers garnered the collective love and support of the locals and collected donations amounting to around USD1,650 on that single day. This was the first Tzu Chi overseas fundraising effort for Hurricane Harvey’s victims.
Timely Financial Assistance for Hurricane Survivors
Tzu Chi volunteers in the US have been distributing relief funds (in the form of cash cards) in several areas (around Houston) that are affected by Hurricane Harvey. As of 10th September, they distributed cash cards totaling USD595,900 to 1,029 families in Greenspoint, Dickinson, Wharton, Beaumont, La Grange, Richmond, and Rosenberg. Over the weekend of 16th-17th September, some 2,947 families in Dickinson and Wharton received USD1,625,100. On 20th September, volunteers returned to Dickinson again to hold another aid distribution, bringing much needed assistance to individuals and families impacted by the hurricane. A total of USD1,345,400 in aid was given to 2,330 families in this event.
Tzu Chi USA plans to distribute financial aid totaling an estimated USD11 million to the hurricane’s survivors, as well as bring comfort and care to them, to help them on the road to recovery.
For updates, videos, photos, etc. on Tzu Chi’s Hurricane Harvey relief, please visit the following websites: