Emotional. Shocking. Humbling. Families across the Lone Star State felt the meaning of those words on August 25th, 2017, and in the past two months following. Hurricane Harvey undeniably left its’ Category 4, destructive mark on the Texas Gulf Coast region, but the response of strength, resiliency and absolute servitude went above and beyond all expectation.
“I woke up at about 12 o’clock at night with water leaking, dripping on me. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do,” said Justin Speis, 14 years old, Woodsboro, TX.
Justin and his brother Ryan Speis, 16-years-old, are Refugio County 4-H members collectively involved in market and commercial steers, market turkeys and livestock judging. Their family weathered the storm in their own home, 41 miles North of Rockport, listening throughout the night to wind, rain and the howls of Harvey tear across their small town.
“It was kind of shocking when it first happened because they said it wasn’t supposed to be that bad.” Ryan said. “It kind of just hit that Thursday that it was going to be pretty bad and I didn’t think it would destroy us this much.”
The morning after the storm, the brothers found that while their animals had survived, their home was not as lucky; soon learning they would need to gut walls, ceilings and floors in most rooms.
“After that next two weeks, we had a lot of people coming from out of town, out of state, to Woodsboro helping start to rebuild,” Ryan said, “and making sure everyone had food and water and putting generators up so we could get electricity and start to get back some normalcy to our lives.”
Ryan and Justin agreed that their time in 4-H taught them to prepare with extra feed, water, and hay for the animals, but their past experiences had also instilled an incredible sense of strength that has helped propel them through this troubling time.
“Just being strong through the tough times and [understanding that] not everything is going to go your way, and you just have to fight through and don’t let it hurt you, don’t let it hurt you enough that you can’t move on,” Ryan said. “You have to make sure you push through and go day by day.”
In Refugio county, Candace Moeller’s official title is County Extension Agent, but Ryan said he prefers the title “my second mom.”
“She was good about calling us, or attempting to call us [with the lack of cell service] and text us to make sure we were okay and asking what damages we had,” Ryan said, “asking about our house, making sure that if we needed water or food or anything like that, she’d try to get us some.”
Moeller’s close relationship with her 4-H families is evident, and she said it was most challenging being unable to reach her youth, constantly worrying about how people had made it through the storm.
“As an adult it’s hard to comprehend what happened.” Moeller said. “I can’t imagine as a kid trying to understand.”
Moeller emphasized that her County was certainly very lucky that no lives or livestock were lost, but the immense destruction left behind was not overlooked.
“We’ve moved mountains in the past month as to how far we’ve come,” Moeller said. “People drive through and they’re like ‘wow the damage,’ but you didn’t see a lot of it, because so much has been done; we’ve had so many people coming in on the weekends just showing up in your yard saying ‘how can I help you.’”
Generous donations to the Texas 4-H Hurricane Harvey relief fund totaled more than $164,000, directly assisting 4-H programs in affected counties.
“We got an amazing outpouring from across the state for 4-H as well as across the nation,” Moeller said. “We have a great 4-H family across the United States, so it’s definitely been an eye opening experience.”
The impact of that outpouring of generosity has been felt throughout the state, especially along the coast in areas such as Port Aransas, where 14-year-old Morgan Kite calls home.
“That was really helpful on a lot of people’s part because a lot of people had it much worse than we [Morgan’s family] did,” Morgan said. “We’ve just been praying a lot for all of the other families that lost a lot more.”
Morgan is a member of Flour Bluff 4-H where she is involved in breeding and market goat projects, shows horses, and is a member of the Hippology team. Morgan said the value of her time in 4-H extends beyond those projects, as she currently seeks refuge at a 4-H family friend’s home in Poteet, Texas.
“[It’s] really emotional and crazy just with everything going on, but mainly crazy just thinking about everything because when you drive through Poteet, it’s just a small little town but it’s put together.” Morgan said. “And then when you go to Port A, everything’s just everywhere in the roads.”
Harvey strengthened quickly as it neared the Texas coast, making evacuations hasty. Morgan said her family only had time to load a few clothes, important documents, pictures, and her animals into their horse trailer before evacuating to Poteet where they rode out the storm safely.
“But there was one animal that did not get to come and that was our potbelly [pig],” Morgan said through the tears. “She was having problems breathing, so we couldn’t get her in the trailer and had to put her down.”
The other animals have adjusted, but Morgan, two months later, still remains separated from her parents.
“I think the hardest part is me being here and them down there [in Port Aransas] because I am an only child,” Morgan said.
Morgan said her parents are working hard to restore their completely mold-infested home in Port Aransas as they also search for temporary living quarters so they can finally be reunited with their daughter.
Morgan said to make the unfortunate distance work it takes, “a lot of phone calls and Facetimes.”
While the Kite’s evacuated to avoid the storm’s path of destruction, they worried about friends left on the island and anxiously awaited their return home after seeing news reports and pictures of such devastation.
“It kind of didn’t hit until we went down there; they were sending pictures of a bunch of stuff, but,” Morgan said, “once you really get down there, you see there’s nothing anymore compared to what it was. There’s still pictures of boats in trees.”
What’s needed now as the mark of Harvey is still evident? In Port Aransas, “There’s a lot of fences that were taken down that just need to be put up,” Morgan said. And Ryan mentioned, “In our area we’ve kind of got back to going with the regular life; in surrounding areas, there’s people that still can’t get in their homes.”
As Texans spanning the region work to move forward, the complete outpouring of support felt by the Kite family, the Speis family, and so many more has not only been monetarily or physically helpful, but inspiring to youth across the state that have shown impressive resilience throughout this disaster.
“That just shows the generosity that people give towards 4-H; that we always give back to other people and they’re always willing to give back to us at the same time,” Ryan said. “It shows how there is good in the world even though there are so many bad things that go on.”