Drops of rain became drops of tears as water flooded the homes of residents in greater Houston, invading their peace and stability, and increasing the concerns Hurricane Harvey created when it hit deep in the heart of Texas.
University of Houston alumna Joann Huynh, who graduated with a management information systems degree in 2002, was among the many Houston residents affected by Harvey. Huynh and her husband, Hoi Nguyen, also a UH alumnus, have been living in Canyon Gate at Cinco Ranch for 13 years.
“The foul smell of rotten food in the fridge, the muddy water left on the floors, the molded Sheetrock, the molded furniture made the working condition extremely unpleasant,” Huynh said.“Yet everyone was working nonstop with big smiles on their faces.”
Mold takes over
Huynh said her house started flooding around 1 p.m. on Aug. 28.
“My husband and I started seeing water zipping through,” Huynh said. “We survived many hurricanes and storms, but we didn’t make Harvey,”
As the water rose, they tried moving as many things as they could upstairs. When the water approached electrical outlets, they had to turn off all the home’s breakers, Huynh said.
The following morning, Huynh said the water passed the electrical outlet line, and in a few hours, they were rescued by boat. While waiting for the water to recede, they stayed at her brother’s house.
“By the time we were able to get back in the house, black mold was as high as my height,” said Huynh, who is just over 5 feet tall.
Huynh decided to show the photographs to her co-workers in order to share her story. Mechanical engineering senior James Russ, who interned at NRG during the summer, offered Huynh assistance after he saw the photos.
“The picture she shared showed mold already growing as high as four feet on her walls,” Russ said. “I was saddened that she was affected, and I quickly offered to organize a team of UH students to help.”
Russ contacted Honors College lecturer Douglas Erwing, Bonnor Leaders founding director and associate dean Andrew Hamilton and environmental science and civil engineering sophomore True Furrh, who was already active in cleaning out houses in the community.
The next morning, a team was ready to help Huynh, Russ said.
“I was inspired by Joann’s determination and optimism despite the circumstances and by the dedication of strangers helping strangers,” Russ said.
Six UH students, a UH professor and two strangers from Kentucky spent an entire Saturday helping Huynh and her family, Russ said.
Erwing explained the tasks to the volunteers and demonstrated how to demolish the kitchen and cut and remove Sheetrock in the master bedroom, master bathroom and closets.
‘Melted my heart’
True Furrh, who is an NSM ambassador and UH CARES captain, said he started a UH Harvey volunteering Facebook group after he walked to the Third Ward Multi-Service Center with friends to donate clothing and food.
“I wanted to make sure nobody got discouraged from volunteering by being turned away from a shelter,” Furrh said. “We lost our home during Hurricane Ike, so that motivated me to be as much help as I could.”
The UH Harvey Relief Carpooling & Volunteer Opportunities group Furrh created has more than 1,200 members. Furrh said he worked directly with at least 100 students a week and a half before classes resumed on Sept. 5.
Huynh said she does not know what she would have done without the help of the volunteers.
“(From) time to time, I had a quick break to look around,” Huynh said. “Seeing everyone working so hard to help me during this time in need melted my heart. Not only did they help to demolish the house, but they also tried to salvage everything they could to reduce cost of rebuild.”