By Mary O’KEEFE
Coping with earthquakes, floods and wildfires, Californians understand the power of nature. So whether disaster hits here at home, in other states, or in other countries, Californians are ready to help with relief efforts.
On Aug. 25, Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas. According to the National Weather Service, Harvey went from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in less than 36 hours. Photos of the devastation shocked many who saw cars completely underwater and people being rescued from atop their second story homes. And the rain seemed never ending.
Calls for support were made and people immediately began to respond. Glendale Police Office Steve Koszis saw one of those requests for help on social media from a fellow law enforcement officer, and friend, who lives just outside of Houston.
“He is a police officer who runs a business in a small town outside of Houston,” Koszis said.
Koszis’ friend wrote about fellow law enforcement officers who lived in the area and were dealing with the devastation, but also had to go to work.
“[Law enforcement families’] homes were underwater like everyone else’s,” Koszis said.
Koszis asked fellow GPD Officer James Colvin if he wanted to join him in Houston to help out. Koszis and Colvin recently worked together to help find a home and services for a homeless American veteran in Glendale, so helping others is natural for them. So they both took some vacation time, bought tickets and flew to Texas.
When they first arrived, they began working at the T-shirt shop Relentless Defender, the business Koszis’ friend owns.
“James and I packed about 1,000 shirts [to be sent off],” he said.
Those shirts were part of a fundraising campaign to help officers in Texas who were affected by Hurricane Harvey. All proceeds from the sale of the shirts will go to the Texas Municipal Police Association.
On the second day there, the Glendale officers went to homes that needed help and that is where they saw just how devastating Harvey had been.
“In front of every house is a pile of rubble,” he said.
They immediately began working at the home of an officer, his wife and five kids. They had to take everything out.
“We had to take walls down to the studs in some cases,” Koszis said. Everything is waterlogged and “insanely heavy,” he added.
Sofas, televisions, mattresses – everything had to go and, in some cases, Koszis said, it was difficult for homeowners to let go of family items.
“And you are dealing with food that has been left for days and [has been] underwater,” he added.
Nothing appeared to be left untouched by the storm. Cars that had been underwater for days were now on the streets with their doors open in the hopes they will dry out. Koszis said there is an estimated half a million cars drying out in Houston alone.
“It’s [amazing] how high the water went. I am six-foot, three inches tall and the water mark in these homes was much taller than me,” he said.
He and Colvin worked on one home of an officer’s family who had just moved in three weeks prior to Harvey.
“It was their dream home and now it’s washed away,” he said.
He was able to find the closing documents in a tall cupboard, which helped.
In addition to the wet furniture, clothes and walls, those helping to reconstruct are dealing with mold. The officers are wearing air masks, gloves and eye protection as they rip down walls and move everything to the curb.
“We see mold on couches, bedsheets and drywall,” he added.
There has been an abundant outpouring throughout the country of support for law enforcement. For example, a group of Albuquerque police drove in with 12 pickup trucks full of items like water, diapers and other things that are desperately needed.
As Houston works to dry out and rebuild from the disaster, police officers are needed to keep the looting under control and to answer emergency calls. Koszis and Colvin wanted to help fellow officers when they went out to do their job. One officer had all of his equipment ruined due to the flooding, including his body armor. He went to work without it and continued to work until replacement equipment could be found.
“We have to help out our brothers and sisters,” Koszis said.
For those who would like to help law enforcement families in Texas who have been affected by Harvey, visit http://relentlessdefender.com/relentless-relief-team-100-proceeds-donated.