Story by Staff Sgt. Gregory Illich
Tropical Storm Imelda made landfall at Freeport, Texas, and dumped 43 inches of rain on the Texas Southeast Gulf Coast over five days from September 17-21, 2019. Many people on the Gulf Coast, still recovering from Hurricane Harvey just two years before, found themselves again in the crosshairs of the massive storm.
Imelda hit the Texas bayous and low-lying areas of Jefferson and Orange Counties the hardest. Emergency responders and local emergency management organizations acted quickly to initiate rescue efforts and set up emergency shelters. Although the danger of Imelda slowly subsided, the impact of the storm continued to be a threat as floodwaters persisted.
As residents began to cope with the loss of property, electricity, drinking water, and necessities, county emergency officials requested further help from the state. Within twenty-four hours of the requests, the Texas State Guard activated 182 members and moved into the “strike zone” to deliver supplies to those in need.
“The Texas State Guard received the request on September 20 and guard members were on scene the following day working alongside the Texas Army National Guard which delivered water and needed equipment and the Texas Forestry Service which also supplied equipment and forklift operators to replenish loading points,” stated 1st Sgt. Terry Lene, Texas State Guard Military District Coordinator for Jefferson County.
Working alongside the Texas State Forest Service and local volunteers, the Texas State Guard established six distribution points in Jefferson and Orange counties supporting the cities of Hamshire, Fannett, Nome, Bevil Oaks, Vidor, and Mauriceville. Other Texas State Guard units were staged at an emergency operation center established in Woodville in order to support boat rescues and provide medical support.
This truly was an example of Texans serving Texans in every way. Seeing emergency responders, volunteers, local organizations, and the Texas Military Department working together in a partnership meant that our mission would get done efficiently and effectively. The residents who came through our distribution points were grateful for the help and were an inspiration for their resiliency,” remarked Col. John Diggs, Tactical Emergency Operations Center, Texas State Guard.
At each distribution point, Texas State Guard members safely directed vehicles and some pedestrians into the distribution lanes where hundreds of packs of bottled water and bagged ice were stacked and ready. As vehicles drove up the designated lanes, lining up much like an assembly line, guard members were able to load three vehicles simultaneously with water and ice while the drivers waited inside their vehicles. Local partner agencies such as area food banks and the American Red Cross also provided food and cleaning supplies. Other donated supplies including baby supplies were distributed as needed.
Guard members assisted more than 10,000 families at the six distribution points. They distributed 22,728 cases of bottled water and 7,632 bags of ice to 9,729 vehicles.
Robert Viator, Orange County Precinct 4 Commissioner, expressed his appreciation for the support of the Texas State Guard. “The Texas State Guard helped our citizens through this disaster. I don’t think we could make it without the assistance of these men and women who serve our country and serve us and our community.”