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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
'Katrina all over again:' New Orleans in solidarity with Houston
By Michael Mathes
New Orleans (AFP) Aug 30, 2017


Southern hospitality shines through Hurricane Harvey
Winnie, United States (AFP) Aug 30, 2017 - When flood waters first seeped into their house, grandparents Bernard and Annie Redeo weren't too worried. But when it rose a foot deep, they made a run for it: fleeing in the pitch-black to neighbors.

They found refuge with a single mom of two. It was 5 am, still dark outside and torrential rain was hammering the small farming town of Winnie, Texas yet she didn't hesitate to open the door.

"It's common in Texas. Everybody usually pulls together for a common cause," says locomotive engineer Bernard Redeo, 58. He and his wife raised eight children and now have 16 grandchildren.

Since Hurricane Harvey unleashed record floods, plunging vast swathes of America's fourth largest city of Houston and surrounding areas under water, perfect strangers up and down the state have leapt off sofas to pluck people to safety, make donations and volunteer help.

"They just do. We call it southern hospitality," explains Louisiana truck driver Cynthia Guillory, 51, stranded en route home for a two-week break from Midland, Texas with her Jamaican boyfriend.

"If you see somebody, you're going to go and help them."

With can-do Texan spirit and the pioneering adventurism on which the United States was built, many consider it a duty and an honor to set aside their own lives to help those less fortunate than themselves.

From ferrying perfect strangers to food, to rescuing babies and coming out of retirement to volunteer at shelters, Texans have mobilized far and wide to help out thinly-stretched emergency services.

"It's a tight-knit community and everybody believes in helping everybody. We're hoping that the water will recede within the next day or so, so we can get back and start helping," said Bernard.

Around 3,000 people live in Winnie. When Bernard and Annie went to check on their home Wednesday, they found neighbors already pulling off debris and collecting things that had floated away despite persistent rain.

- Babies stuck -

It is the third time their home has been battered by extreme weather. In 2007 tropical storm Humberto blew the roof off. The following year, Hurricane Ike flooded the property and destroyed the barn.

This time, two feet of water under, they fear they've lost "just about everything in the house." Their only comfort is that their three horses and several cattle, whom they moved to higher ground, are safe.

Jeeps towing boats of all sizes kicked up spray Wednesday as they plied the flooded main drag of Winnie while rescue helicopters throbbed through stormy grey skies.

"It's pretty hard to sit around and hear about older people and younger people being stuck in homes when we're sitting watching TV," said Justin Coleman, 33, who drove three hours to help from Fort Worth.

"We know a lot of people would come if they could," he said, part of a crew desperate to get to flood-ravaged Port Arthur, on Sabine Lake which straddles the Texas-Louisiana border.

Coleman, who runs a construction company, arrived in the Winnie area at midnight and got up at 5 am yet flood waters were so high that he was forced back at first attempt.

"We're on the radio with them right now and every 30 seconds there's another person rescued," he told AFP during a brief pit stop at a gas station while they searched for an alternative route.

"There's a lot of babies and elderly that are stuck in their homes right now. They said it's getting up to their chests."

It's a need to respond that Guillory understands only too well. She saw perfect strangers with regular boats pluck guests to safety from their flooded hotel in Mount Belvieu, just east of Houston.

With memories and scars of Katrina still raw, New Orleans residents poured out love and donations Wednesday to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, where devastation has reminded many of the epic 2005 storm.

"This is beautiful. It's been overwhelming," said Father Tim Hedrick as a steady stream of parishioners and other residents of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish drove to St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, their cars and SUVs overflowing with food and other supplies.

Hedrick, the church's 35-year-old parochial vicar, whom everyone calls Father Tim, and an army of volunteers helped unload cartons of instant noodles, drinking water, crackers, blankets, shoes, cleaning materials, even a pair of red white and blue folding chairs.

They will be stuffed into an 18-wheel tractor trailer and hauled to the deluged city of Houston and other parts of Texas, where millions of people are reeling from the largest storm to batter the Gulf Coast since Katrina barrelled ashore 12 years ago.

One of the volunteers, nanny Amy Runco, had come to the church to drop off donations of diapers and baby formula, but after mulling over how Texans and others helped her family so much when they were struck by Katrina, she stayed to help.

"I just wanted to give back after everything I went through," including living in a government-provided trailer for two years during high school while her family got back on its feet, Runco, 26, told AFP.

"Just seeing what they're going through (with storm Harvey) has brought back a lot of memories. It's rough," she said, her voice cracking.

"It just feels like it's Katrina all over again."

The scenes of giving and remembering were being repeated across New Orleans, which has found itself in sudden tragic kinship with a larger city in a neighboring state suffering similarly staggering pain and loss.

"It breaks my heart," restaurant waitress Debra Werner told AFP as she dropped off packages of rice, beans and sausage at the Second Harvest Food Bank in Elmwood.

"You bleed for those people, you know?"

Werner, 65, was forced to evacuate her inundated New Orleans home when a nearby levee failed. She struggled to hold back tears as she thought of neighboring communities and states now suffering similar fates.

Many in New Orleans of course know full well the horrors of such disaster, and they have opened their hearts and wallets to help, even as they faced the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, which has drenched New Orleans with rain, but fortunately little flooding.

- Two 'similar' storms -

Brent McCrossen heads a loose-knit group of 45 chief executives in the region determined to do good, and they rallied around helping Houston.

"Those people did everything for New Orleans," including taking in Katrina refugees, said McCrossen, who co-founded tech firm Audiosocket.

"If we sat on our hands and just sent thoughts and prayers it would be an inadequate moral response."

Together McCrossen and friends have set up food banks in four locations around New Orleans.

Many rescuers and other emergency responders in Texas -- and now in western Louisiana, where Harvey was hammering Lake Charles -- suffered through the Katrina disaster.

The two storms appear "similar in a lot of ways," said Henry Cambre, a retired chief petty officer with the Coast Guard who was taking emergency calls at its Harvey command center in New Orleans.

Cambre noted the scope of both storms, and the damage that Mother Nature wrought a dozen years ago and now.

"You feel a connection to the folks who are out there," he said.

Father Tim concurred that the two cities are now intertwined in tragedy.

But he offered a message of hope to Houston: "We have your back."

DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Two landslides kill 30 in China
Beijing (AFP) Aug 30, 2017
Two landslides in rural areas of China have killed 30 people with at least another 12 missing, according to state media reports Wednesday. The death toll from a large landslide that struck a town in southwestern Guizhou province on Monday rose to 23 while a second landslide on Wednesday killed seven people in the northwest of the country. More than 600,000 cubic metres of rock and mud ha ... read more

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