Husband and wife Tom and Laura Rose of Wellsboro are on a mission. They are looking for people willing to travel to Refugio County in Texas to help repair or replace homes damaged in Hurricane Harvey.
“More volunteers and funds are needed to get the people of Refugio back on their feet,” Laura said. “It’s been two years since Hurricane Harvey devastated the area and there is still a lot of work to be done.”
On Aug. 24, 2017, Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall. Hardest hit were Texas and Louisiana. Also impacted were six other states and Caribbean islands. With damage estimated at $125 billion, Harvey is tied with 2005’s Hurricane Katrina as one of the costliest on record. In Texas alone, there were 103 storm-related deaths with an estimated 300,000 structures and 500,000 vehicles damaged or destroyed.
Tom and Laura had both retired in 2016. “Our plan was to spend several years living in our RV, traveling in America and doing disaster relief work. We had done a lot of relief work after Katrina,” said Laura.
When her mother was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer, the couple changed their plans. “In November of 2016, we leased our home in Wellsboro, got in our RV and headed for my mother’s in Athens, Ga.,” Laura said.
“When Harvey struck, Tom and I were still in Georgia taking care of her 24/7. That’s how we found out about the nonprofit RV Disaster Corps in Waco, Texas. They were asking for volunteers who owned recreational vehicles to go Refugio to help with disaster relief. We completed all of the required training and testing online and were accepted. After my mother passed away in November of 2017, we notified the RV Disaster Corps we were available for deployment,” said Laura.
The Roses arrived on Jan. 1, 2018. One room in the town’s chamber of commerce building was serving as the Refugio Volunteer Reception Center.
“At the center, Tom and I helped homeowners fill out applications identifying the type of work that had to be done to make their property habitable, from clearing fallen trees and other debris to replacing roofs to sheet rocking walls. The majority of work completed in 2018 was to reduce mold by putting up tarps over holes in roofs and broken windows to keep homes dry until it could be determined whether they could be repaired or had to be demolished,” Laura said.
It wasn’t long before the center’s director and the Roses realized the center was not big enough. “Tom and I were attending the First Presbyterian Church in Refugio and knew it was the perfect place for it.” The church said yes.
Tom set up the center’s website and Facebook page and created databases and spreadsheets so information about home locations and needed repairs could be linked to volunteers. Laura helped stock the center with tools and supplies for volunteers, created a bunkhouse, a shower trailer and a kitchen. She also cooked meals.
The Roses stayed in Refugio for four months before returning for six months, from November 2018 to April of this year. They plan to return in early November and stay for another six months.
Through the Volunteer Reception Center, Laura and Tom have worked with many different organizations while in Texas, from the American Red Cross to the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, Seventh Day Adventist Disaster Aid, Mennonite Disaster Service, Habitat for Humanity, All Hands and Hearts and the Texas-based Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group.
“The First Presbyterian Church of Wellsboro, our home church, is supporting our efforts in Refugio through its Missions Committee,” Laura said. “We are planning to return to Wellsboro when we get too old to be on the road. Tom just turned 70 and says he’s good for another five years.”
”People in Refugio County are still living in hotels or motels or with family and friends because they can’t get back into their own homes,” Tom said. “We are asking groups and individuals to volunteer and come to Refugio to lend a hand. Desperately needed are estimators, people who can go through a home and estimate the cost of making needed repairs as well as skilled tradesmen — plumbers, electricians and construction workers.”
Anyone who wants to donate funds, volunteer to help with repairs or build new homes or in any other way are invited to contact Laura Rose at 570-453-7985 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Roses will be in the Wellsboro area until mid-October.