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90 days in the wake of Hurricane Harvey


Lynda Anderson, in white in middle, stands for a photo with her team near Houston. - submitted photos

A woman stands on a chair holding her infant daughter over her head as the floodwaters rise in her home before rescuers find her.

This is just one of the stories Electric City resident Lynda Anderson encountered during her 90-day deployment in the Houston, Texas area, where she did work for the Army Corps of Engineers, from which she had retired in 2012.

Parts of Texas and Louisiana were hit by Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 25, 2017, and soon thereafter Anderson was contacted about going there to help. Because of previous engagements, she couldn't go until after Thanksgiving. She headed to Texas on Nov. 28.

Assigned to the Houston/Katy area, Anderson worked mostly in rural areas helping those affected by the storm get into temporary housing, with as many as 35 people on her team.

Even three months after the storm had initially hit, Anderson said, "it was astounding to see ... how many people had been affected by the storm still. Homelessness, living in shelters, hotels, waiting for insurance settlements. Because of mold and mildew and the damage done to their home, with nowhere else to go, people would live inside of tents inside of their own living rooms, often with no running water or toilets or electricity. It was incredible to see how austere the conditions were."

Coming home to Electric City in the first week of March, Anderson remarked that there was still lots of work to be done back in Texas.

"We were seeing a lot of frustration because they've spent months waiting for a place to live, and they can't move ahead because of things like they aren't getting their insurance settlements," Anderson said.

A lot of Anderson's work entailed setting up public meetings, doing quality assurance work in association with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), and working in the area of temporary housing, where she worked with contractors and inspected areas where they could put housing, which requires setting up water, sewer, and power. Anderson would inspect these areas, make sure area ordinances were met, and make drawings showing where a trailer would fit best; where the power, water, and sewer would connect; and so on.

Anderson also trained eight locals to do the same kind of work, part of a program in Texas that helps those affected by a disaster to have employment.

Anderson spoke with a lot of people affected by the storm and recounted a story told to her by a woman who had been rescued. While the woman's home was flooding, just before she was found, the woman stood on a chair holding her 1-year-old daughter above her head. The rescuers who came for her were a group of men with boats going house to house, seeing who they could find.

Anderson also spoke about finding a couple in their 80s with "southern sweetness" who were living in a garden shed. Anderson was able to get them into a travel trailer within a week.

"A lot of them just need a shoulder to cry on," Anderson said about the hurricane victims. "A lot of them are so overwhelmed they don't know what their next step is going to be."

A photo displayed on a cell phone shows the water near a roof during flooding.

"I get my rewards from just knowing that I made a difference and seeing people going into houses," Anderson continued. "I look at what we have accomplished in my time in Houston. I felt frustrated - there is so much to be done. But when we did the tally and I realized 2,000 people have been put into houses ... I kept telling myself that wouldn't have happened had we not been down there to help."

Anderson's oldest daughter, Heather Geersten, is a park ranger for the Army Corps of Engineers, and was deployed to Puerto Rico to help with their disaster relief efforts, for which the locals are extremely grateful, Anderson noted. They hold festivities for those who help as power returns to their area.

Geersten grew up in the Coulee area and now lives in the Tri-Cities area.

"This is her first deployment," Anderson said. "I kind of love it because it's like she's following in her mother's footsteps."

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