My name is Dr. Miriam Staub and I was one of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response team members that were sent to help evacuees in Houston by the Israel Rescue Coalition (IRC) and United Hatzalah (UH). While in the Houston area, we bore witness to one of the most extreme rain events in American history. It has been very hard to explain how much that made me feel small and vulnerable on a personal level. In addition to the devastation, I and the team that accompanied me bore witness that Houston residents, as well as many other volunteers from around the United States, showed up to help. The volunteers came in droves and were so many in number that a new Facebook page was created on which people could put their names down in the available time slots and then show up to help. This was done in order to avoid overcrowding shelters with volunteers who wanted to help. Both the volunteers who arrived as well as the evacuees were equally gracious in accepting and appreciating the help that the IRC and UH offered.
Hurricane Harvey hit everyone, people from all backgrounds and walks of life. People all had one thing in common, they needed help. Everyone that we came across warmly showed us their appreciation for our help and offered their sincerest thanks for our traveling all the way from Israel to help.
The fact that we, coming from Israel cared enough about these people as a nation and as an organization, to help them on site really helped us in connecting with them. Almost everyone we spoke to was ready to extend their hands and open their hearts to us, as we had come ready to open ours to them. The ones that had lost everything and needed to be guided. We helped guide them, mainly through the storm of their own emotional turmoil. The ones who were there working, as EMS responders, police, relief personnel, and volunteers, had an even higher appreciation for what we were doing and frequently enough I was pleasantly surprised when they asked to take a picture with me.
This was especially true when our team spent the night awake at Jack Brooks Regional Airport near Beaumont. The airport had been converted into a temporary rescue headquarters that provided services for people in transport from flooded areas to long term shelters in Dallas and other locations. The pilots and flight paramedics sat around and waited and when their names were called, ran to treat, stabilize and transport patients. The conversations we had reassured them and brought about a sense of calmness and security in them that gave them something to hold on to. Something palpable that would remind them of the emotions they were feeling during this intense operation. When we spoke about who we are and what our organization does it was touching for me to see many of the professionals take out their phones and look up what ambucycles were.
Ironically, one of the paramedics we met was named Israel and in addition to taking a photo with us for a memento, he asked if he could buy one of the orange shirts that were iconic to our team. I gave him a UH keepsake to remember us by.
Bottom line, the magnitude of the devastation, the overwhelming response of the population ready to help and the fact that our team was there right when we needed to be and doing the work that we needed to do, made for a very rewarding experience for both us and the people we helped.