Last week, I took a day off work and drove two hours east of Houston to Vidor, Texas to volunteer with the Young Living Foundation. Vidor was one of the hardest hit areas, not only by Hurricane Harvey itself, but also by the floods that followed when they opened the dams. These people had just felt a wave of relief after (mostly) surviving the hurricane only to have a wave of water pour into their homes. Having survived the hurricane myself with minor roof damage to our home, I needed to put my hands on it and help someone, anyone that wasn’t so blessed.

The team I worked with visited three homes last Monday. The first, a caved in ceiling and roof damage. We tarped the roof, ripped out the ceiling and insulation and cleaned up.

At the second home, we removed soaked carpet and drywall from a second story bedroom – that was the original plan. We later realized that the water that came in, also ran down the walls into the first floor and had soaked the floors down there as well. This woman, who had just recently lost her father, was so focused on helping her neighbors that she didn’t realize she already had mold growing in her own home. We assessed damage and scheduled to have another team come out the next day to completely gut her home.

The final home had about two feet of water throughout. The couple who lived here was elderly and their daughter had already ripped out their carpet and flooring. You could see the water line on everything: the walls, cupboards, furniture. All they had ever worked for in their lives was in that home. Not being in a flood plain, they didn’t have flood insurance and FEMA had already denied them once. With mold growing on the walls and the furniture, trying to explain to them that everything had to go was heartbreaking.  We removed everything in that home: furniture, cupboards, sheet rock, wood paneling and insulation.

I drove nine miles down a road in Vidor with nothing but mountains of people’s lives on either side of the road as far as you could see. Debris, furniture, children’s toys, even their cars, stacked up waiting for a dump truck to haul it off.  You can watch the devastation on TV and social media. You can look at the pictures, donate your money, thoughts and prayers. But it isn’t until you have felt the weight of a panel of insulation soaked with water, smelled the mold and mildew, walked through the day caked in mud and sheet rock dust and hugged and shed tears with someone who has lost everything, that it becomes real.  I’m happy to have been able to take a day and try to make a difference, even just for one day on a long journey for these Harvey survivors. It is something that I will truly never forget.

– Written by Ashly Turner