Barbara Dunn and Ishmael Caballero work on a chainsaw cross made from the tree stump, all that was left of a massive hackberry tree ruined by Hurricane Hanna. The tree had been small when homeowner Reynolds moved into the house decades ago.

PHARR, Texas (BP) — On Aug. 6, Pharr native Patty Reynolds, 90, said goodbye to her only remaining sibling — her sister Sally Mullins, 87, as Mullins succumbed to Parkinson’s disease. Reynolds, known by her nickname Petie, and her nephew were allowed inside the quiet room at a residential healthcare facility to spend the last 15 minutes of Sally’s life with her.

Sally’s death proved to be one more heartache for Reynolds, who had reluctantly left her home to ride out Hurricane Hanna with her granddaughter and family, only to return to find her yard strewn with downed trees and limbs following the E1 storm that struck the Rio Grande Valley in late July.

The first Atlantic hurricane of the 2020 season, Hanna hit Padre Island on July 25, moving into the Rio Grande Valley, inundating some parts of South Texas with more than 15 inches of rain and prompting severe flash flooding. The storm’s onslaught brought more suffering to a region still reeling from a sharp surge in COVID-19 cases.
Although the Rio Grande River did not rise as feared, residents grappled with power outages and many sustained wind and flood damage.

Reynolds’ home of more than 50 years was unscathed, but her sizeable yard was full of debris.
Reynolds remembered when Hurricane Beulah flooded the home in 1967, leaving water several inches deep inside. Grateful that the damage from Hanna remained outdoors, she was still overwhelmed by its magnitude, Reynolds’ granddaughter Shannon McCoy told the TEXAN.

McCoy, a former Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief ministry assistant who recently returned to live in the Valley, spoke with SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice, who encouraged her to fill out a request for assistance.

A chainsaw and recovery team from First Baptist Melissa came to help Aug. 5. They worked steadily for two days to clear Reynolds’ yard, continuing as she left to visit her sister for the final time.

When Reynolds returned from that heartbreaking experience, DR crew leader Jesse Hauptrief asked if she would like the volunteers to carve a cross out of the stump left from a massive hackberry tree split by the storm.
Reynolds burst into tears.

“I said, how appropriate for today,” McCoy recalled. “This was God’s perfect timing. She can look at that cross from now on and know God was holding her and was aware of her broken heart.”

“Now I can look out there and I have comfort,” Reynolds told McCoy, who said the yard was her grandmother’s passion.

“She works in the yard every single day. That’s how she stays so young. To see that cross will give her hope,” McCoy said.

McCoy admitted she was surprised at the impact the crews had, despite her experience in disaster relief.

“I never was able to see things on this side of DR, and I am completely blown away,” McCoy wrote in a text message to Debra Britt, SBTC DR administrator on site in the Valley. “Truly God’s work is being done.”

McCoy’s experience helped her know where to find help for her grandmother, but other area survivors are having no trouble contacting the SBTC DR for assistance through the toll-free numbers — 855-728-1374 and 956-448-4712 (for Spanish speakers).

Swift response to Hanna

By Monday, July 27, SBTC DR crews manning quick response unit mobile kitchens were preparing meals by the hundreds for survivors at various sites in the Valley, in cooperation with the Salvation Army.

By Aug. 3, recovery and chainsaw teams from First Melissa and First Baptist Pflugerville were on site or en route. A team from First Baptist Bellville will arrive over the weekend of Aug. 8, Britt said.

To date, crews have completed 59 jobs: many small, involving cutting up fallen trees or limbs and clearing debris. Jobs that don’t involve mud-out or tree work are being tackled by volunteers from McAllen’s Baptist Temple. Besides hosting the DR crews, the church has provided two Spanish-speaking volunteers to accompany assessors to jobs and translate for them.

So far the deployment has involved a combination of chainsaw and mud-out work, Britt said, adding that the mosquitoes have proved a challenge, although social distancing has not, with the Baptist Temple’s large youth building allowing for ample space to spread out.

“We are checking temperatures every day. We are wearing masks when we go out to meet with folks,” Britt said. “We are blessed to be able to help.”

Around 27-30 SBTC DR volunteers are at work daily, Britt confirmed.

What Christ called us to

The Hanna deployment is the first for Mike Lawrence of Redwater, Texas. Recently retired from the U.S. Forest Service, Lawrence is no stranger to responding to emergencies. He has used this occasion to pray with survivors as a chaplain, accompany assessors to potential job sites and even lend a hand on work crews.

Lawrence was among the volunteers helping out at Reynolds’ home.

“[She] is an elderly lady with a heart of gold who couldn’t do anything to take care of the overwhelming situation. We could help her do something she couldn’t do. We brought comfort in a time of loss,” Lawrence said, his voice cracking with emotion.

“It’s a privilege to be here,” he added. “It’s really about loving others. What Christ called us to.”