Hurricane Harvey has been wreaking
havoc on southeast Texas ever since it landed on Friday, and it’s shattering
records along the way. Wherever possible, IBEW members are helping with rescue
efforts and to restore power to the 300,000-plus residents without it.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said International Representative David Gonzales of the Category 4 hurricane. “Almost no area was spared.”
Nearly 40 inches of rain has fallen so far, reported the National Weather Service, so much that it had to add a new color to its maps to accurately reflect the devastation. More than 75,000 emergency calls have been made as of Monday morning, eight people are reported dead and upwards of 30,000 people may be forced from their homes. And it’s not over yet.
Harvey has been downgraded to a tropical storm, but residents can expect more rain throughout the week, putting even more strain on the area, including dams and reservoirs already at capacity. Some areas may see close to 50 inches of rain by the time it’s over.
IBEW locals in the path of the storm, including areas around Corpus Christi, Houston and Galveston, were evacuated, Gonzales said. Some members and retirees have experienced property damage, but no deaths of members have been reported.
Houston Local 66 Business Manager Greg Lucero says that crews with utility company CenterPoint Energy are already out working.
“If they were able to report to work, they’re working,” Lucero said of the approximately 1,500 utility members. “They’re probably sleeping in their trucks right now.”
Most of the many refineries on the Gulf Coast are operating with only essential personnel, which would include IBEW members, Gonzales said.
It’s been difficult to get an accurate assessment of all IBEW members, due to blocked roads and power outages, not to mention the constant rain. But Gonzales said he did hear of one member who went above and beyond to help out.
Galveston Local 527 member Chris Rhodes lost his house to flooding in Dickinson, one of the hardest-hit areas in the state. Once he got his family to safety, he got in his boat and went out to help his neighbors. He’s rescued close to 50 people so far.
“He lost everything,” Gonzales said. “And he’s back out there today in his boat, doing everything he can.”
Staff and members of Houston Local 716 have been assisting with rescue efforts as well, Lucero said.
For those who want to help with relief efforts, the Texas AFL-CIO has set up a fund. Financial donations can also be made to the Red Cross.
Kathleen McKirchy, executive director of the Community Services Agency, says that monetary donations are best at this time, since items like food and clothing take staff time to sort through.
"Money helps support local businesses and entities get back on their feet as people buy locally once they can," McKirchy said.