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'From here, we rebuild': Texans prepare for arduous cleanup process

LDS Church members band together to help neighbors

KLEIN, Texas — Mark Myers cautiously guided his Go-Devil mud boat through the flooded streets of the upscale Wimbledon neighborhood, deftly avoiding a partially submerged pickup truck, the tops of street signs and iron gates.

He passed fallen sections of red brick fence lining the backyards of a long row of houses and a couple of kayakers headed the other direction. He eased the craft around the winding streets to a dead-end where Will and Tasha Willis live on what they thought was the highest ground in the neighborhood.

The Willises and a half dozen other members of the Wimbledon Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — wearing "Mormon Helping Hands" yellow vests — waited for Myers in a driveway, water lapping at their feet. A row of water-logged wallboard, carpet and other debris sat neatly stacked along the side yard.

"We're so lucky. We had maybe 6 inches of water in our home and we got to be here right now," Tasha Willis said.

Myers brought the couple and the LDS volunteers to the house earlier in the day to begin the arduous cleanup process in the wake of Harvey, which dumped record levels of rain on the Houston area. Similar scenes are playing out all over the beleaguered city as Texans pitch in to help their neighbors recover from the catastrophic storm.

Mark Meyers, Mormon Helping Hands, ferries other LDS clean up volunteers after Tropical Storm Harvey in Klein, Texas on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It was Will and Tasha Willis' first glimpse of the damage since they and their three children, ages 12, 10 and 8, grabbed backpacks and fled on a pontoon boat Sunday.

Fortunately, the family moved much of their furniture and other items upstairs where floodwaters didn't reach. But they still have a daunting task ahead.

"From here, we rebuild," Will Willis said. "It will take us a while. We don't have homeowners insurance."

Myers retrieved the Willises and the volunteers and shuttled them through the neighborhood to dry ground. They all plan to be back at it Thursday, likely walking rather than boating in as the water continues to recede.

Earlier in the week, when the floodwaters swelled over fences and drowned vehicles, Myers figures he rescued as many as 50 trapped people. Now the water is so shallow in some places that he needed to pull up the outboard motor and push the boat. A man in a Jeep Wrangler gave him a tow at one point. The Jeep's license plate read: GOOD NBR.

"It's all our friends, friends and neighbors. We were lucky. We were in the right spot so it didn't get to us but it got to them," said Myers, a member of Windrose Ward of the Klein Stake of the LDS Church.

The raging waters also got to people in the Prestonwood Forest subdivision, not far from the LDS Houston Texas Temple. High water marks were visible 3 to 4 feet up on the houses.

Mounds of soggy furniture, saturated carpet and shredded insulation piled in front yards lined Ravenwood Street. Pickup trucks and a huge, overflowing trash bin choked the narrow road as residents and friends gutted their once water-filled homes.

"Houstonians are the best," said an exhausted woman. "We're trying to be a beacon to this country that needs it so badly."

Across the street at Kevin and Sara Brown's house, two Mormon missionaries were among a group of Klein Stake volunteers hauling out ruined furniture, taking down walls and mopping mud-spattered floors. As missionaries, Sister Bethany Smith and Sister Alyssa Richards don't usually swing heavy tools to tear out walls.

"This is very different, but I think this is going to be missionary work for the next couple of weeks," Sister Smith said.

Sara Brown and her 16-year-old daughter, Anna, were overjoyed about the help as they returned to their house after being evacuated. Kevin Brown left on a three-week long business trip just before the storm hit.

"We knew we were going to be coming back to devastation," said Sara Brown standing among her possessions strewn across the front lawn. Like the Willises, Brown doesn't have flood insurance.

Anna Brown, a member of the Silver Pines Ward, said that because of some church boundary changes, she didn't know any of the adults and kids who showed up to help.

"I don't think the people that have been helping know how much of an impact they're making," she said, adding she spent the morning crying and wondering what she and her family were going to do. "When (my mother) pulled up and we saw all these people at our house, I wanted to start crying again."

Andrew Speckhard, a Wimbledon Ward member, said neighbors are helping neighbor and it doesn't matter what church anyone belongs to.

"The nice thing is we take the long perspective. It's not going to be fixed in a day. It's not going to be fixed in a week. It's not going to be fixed in months," he said.

Speckhard said the experience causes people to recalibrate what's really important in life as they sort through their damaged possessions.

"I think people get a wake-up call and realize what's really important," he said. "On this side (of the city), we've had no fatalities, no one's hurt. It can all be redone."