JFNA Update: Hurricane Harvey

According to the National Weather Service, the effects associated with now-Tropical Storm Harvey are “unprecedented” and “unknown and beyond anything experienced.” The news is full of horrific stories of despair and remarkable rescue efforts. Emergency responders have completed thousands of high-water rescues. Travel across the area continues to be severely hampered, if not impossible. Many cars are almost completely submerged under some of the city’s elevated highways. Rain is continuing to fall and the storm appears to be heading back toward Houston. Estimates are that rainfall may exceed 4 feet by the time the storm is done.

We have reached out to every Federation and Network community in the vicinity of the storm. The brunt of the impact is in Houston. Corpus Christi tells us they have “some downed power lines, power poles, uprooted trees, fallen tree branches, fallen fences, lack of power,” but no major issues. San Antonio appears to have been relatively spared. They are helping to provide shelter and accommodation to displaced families from Houston. 

Lee Wunsch, the Federation CEO in Houston, evacuated his own home yesterday as a nearby river started overflowing its banks and his entire neighborhood was placed under a mandatory evacuation. At the end of this email, please find a brief update on the situation from the Houston Federation marketing director, Taryn Baranowski.

On Sunday, in addition to setting up a national fund, we helped Houston set up their own fundraising webpage. To date, Houston has received $78,443 from 558 donors. The Jewish Federation in New Orleans, which approved an immediate $50,000 grant for relief efforts yesterday, also launched a fundraising effort locally, as did dozens of other Federations. The JFNA mailbox has received over $100,000 so far. Both Texas Jewish camps — Greene Family Camp (URJ) and Young Judea Texas — have opened their gates and bunks for evacuees. 

In our communications with Houston, we have heard about the wonderful outreach from many Federations and organizations looking to support them. Please recognize that the community is still experiencing heavy rain and flooding. It will be days, even weeks, until they are able to fully determine the extent of the damage. We are working closely with the Federation’s leadership who, unfortunately, has had experience over the last few years with major flooding. We will help assess their needs as quickly as possible. Right now, the most significant thing we can do is raise the funds that we know will be needed to support their clean-up and recovery efforts.  

We commissioned a series of targeted ads on Facebook. These ads target individuals who have previously given to domestic disasters like these and individuals “with like-minded attributes” (similar Facebook profiles). According to Facebook, that creates a “total reach” of about 40,000, so it will be interesting to see what this effort yields. The ads will run through the week.

Report from the Houston Jewish Federation

Imagine living in a community that has experienced three major floods in less than two years; and this was the worst one. It is almost unbelievable. We have received half of our total yearly rainfall in just three days and it is still raining. 

Schools are closed and mass infrastructure problems caused by flooding have made it difficult to travel and assess the extent of the damage. No one can believe that they are dealing with flooding for the second time in less than a year and, like last time, some of the hardest hit areas are in the hub of Jewish life. Here are photos from the local ABC News affiliate that show what life is like in Houston.

Many of Houston’s large elderly Jewish population had to be evacuated from their residences. Flooding at the Jewish Assisted Living Center resulted in the need to rent a second generator, which was quite costly. 

Displaced families are in the process of taking up shelter at nearby schools. Many local residents have organized rescue missions for those that are stranded or unable to help themselves.

This video posted yesterday on The Houston Jewish Federation's Facebook page shows a Federation staff member being rescued via boat.