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The southeast Texas town of Deweyville, Texas experienced heavy flooding during Holy Week last month, including the Deweyville United Methodist Church, shown here. Conditions have improved, but the nearby Sabine River remains at flood stage. Photo courtesy Texas Conference.

Photo courtesy Texas Conference

The southeast Texas town of Deweyville, Texas experienced heavy flooding during Holy Week last month, including the Deweyville United Methodist Church, shown here. Conditions have improved, but the nearby Sabine River remains at flood stage.

Texas flooding prompts relief work, prayers

By Sam Hodges
April 20, 2016 | DALLAS (UMNS)

United Methodists in Houston and elsewhere in southeast Texas continue to join fellow residents in coping with flooding rains that have claimed lives and damaged thousands of homes and other buildings, including churches.

Some relief work by United Methodist churches has been underway, but most is on hold because the weather hasn’t let up.

“It literally is still raining,” said Carol Greenslate, director of disaster response for the Texas Conference, said April 20 in Houston. “We’re not done with the rescue and evacuation stage, which is why the early responders have not deployed. There’s still danger.”

Greenslate and the Rev. Morris Matthis, the conference’s Central North District superintendent, led a planning meeting about the church’s response the evening of April 19, with representatives from four United Methodist congregations.

“We said, ‘Tell us the neighborhoods you know of where people, not necessarily church members, have water in their homes,’” Matthis said. “When it was over, we were looking at a list of 19 neighborhoods … We just sort of stared at (the list) and said, ‘We need to pray.’”

Eight flood-related deaths

The greater Houston area had about a foot of rain earlier in the week, leading to eight flood-related deaths. One was Charles Odum of Waller County, a seventh grade teacher who attended Pattison United Methodist Church, in Pattison, Texas said Paula Arrnold, director of communications for the Texas Conference.

News reports said he died in his car after it was submerged in flood waters. Services will be this weekend. 

The rains of the past few days come after flooding affected other parts of the Texas Conference in March, during Holy Week. The Caddo Lake area and three counties near the Sabine River — Newton, Orange and Jasper — all had major damage.

The Rev. Sharon Sabom, who leads the Deweyville United Methodist Church and Mauriceville United Methodist Church, said “100 percent” of the homes in Deweyville had flooding after some 18 inches of rain fell there, prompting an evacuation order.

The Deweyville United Methodist Church did not escape.

“We’ve had to pull up all the flooring down to the sub-floor, and take out sheetrock and paneling,” Sabom said. “We’re temporarily meeting at the Mauriceville United Methodist Church.”

That church’s family life center has served as a shelter. Equipped with 40 cots and a kitchen, it is ready to house relief workers.

Sabom noted that, despite the extensive damage in her community, there were no flood-rated deaths.

“That’s an awful lot to give thanks and praise for,” she said.

The Rev. Amy Walker, associate pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in Nederland, Texas, has helped coordinate the conference’s disaster-response work in the affected counties near the Sabine River. Greenslate called Walker’s efforts “extraordinary.”

Walker said that volunteers, including some United Methodists, had done a lot of mucking out of homes flooded in March. But the Sabine River remains at flood stage.

“If the river rises and floods these homes again, all the work that was just done … will have to be redone,” she said.

Concern for uninsured church 

Closer to Houston, the Salem United Methodist Church — a small, predominantly African-American church in Tomball, Texas — apparently was damaged by a fallen tree, Matthis said.

“I’m very concerned about what this could mean for that church,” he said. “They don’t have insurance.”

The Texas Conference has had volunteer teams working in the areas flooded in March, and some of its Houston-area churches, including The Woodlands United Methodist, plan to have flood-relief workdays over the weekend. The Houston forecast calls for more rain on April 21, a break for two days, then rain again on April 24.

The conference has created a special relief fund, and has been in touch with the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Greenslate said low-lying southeast Texas is accustomed to floods, but this spring has seen more persistent and widespread rains than usual. She said the Cypress area of Houston, the Sabine River counties and the Caddo Lake area will all need long-term help.  

Matthis expressed confidence that United Methodists will do their share or more.

“What we know is that our folks are going to step up and be who they are,” he said. “They’re going to give of themselves and serve and make a difference.”

Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org