When Harvey hit, I found out that the small church near me had volunteered to take in 100 people. The church is an official Red Cross center, and the only one for League City, Texas. Initially, they were only able to send three volunteers to staff it.
This city has over 100,000 people in it. When people searched for a place to go, this church was the only one listed for the entire city and they poured in. So I decided to offer my services as an emergency physician.
We had 200 cots, so the church agreed to take 200 people.
Like the rain, what started in drips turned into a torrent of people: soaking wet, clutching a garbage bag of heirlooms in one hand and a shivering dog in the other.
As we began getting more and more evacuees, we were told that the Red Cross was going to turn the small shelter into an evacuation center. That meant we had to remove the cots so that capacity could double to 400. Once this was done, the Red Cross would then begin busing people out.
Soon enough, we had 780 people with us. They arrived by boat, flatbed truck, and by the busload. Some people had been in chest-deep water for hours. Some were pulled off roofs by the “Cajun navy.”
We set up clinic areas, towel-off stations, an infant room and a dog room. The church and the small group of volunteers kept everything together.
When we got ready to take a break, another army vehicle dropped off 40 people and pets.
I watched a heavily pregnant woman, due in 11 days, waddle down the hall. We both gave a silent prayer that she wouldn’t have to deliver there.
The buses to evacuate people never came, so the church opened up their school and private offices and more people poured in. Every available space was filled to capacity. As it got dark, we began convincing other churches to open their doors up.
I’m told that last night, we registered 780 people in that church, each with a different story of flooding and survival. I’ve never been more proud of that church and the people in it. We all stepped up in the midst of tragedy.
14 hours after I walked into the church and asked if they needed help, I was finally able to go home. When I arrived home, I heard water coming down the chimney. I decided to press on, and now I’m at a different facility where the current census is 238.
Editor’s Note from A.J. Heightman:
As of this posting, Dr. Ireland has helped staff four separate shelters for League City, Texas and has been able to help with the needs of over 1,400 displaced people. She lost her truck under water, but not her home.