Alaskans headed to Houston to help flood victims
A red-eye flight out of Alaska landed Joyce Kearsley in Texas before 8 a.m. Tuesday morning. As an 18-year volunteer veteran for the American Red Cross, she's deployed to disasters all across the country, including relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, but still had no idea what the day would hold.
"I really don't," she told KTVA on the way from the airport to the Austin Convention Center where volunteers are staging, adding, "But I know it's going to be chaos."
Kearsley joins thousands of American Red Cross volunteers from across the country who've flocked to the water-ravaged coastal bend of Texas. Having lived in Houston from 2012 to 2015, it's a disaster relief assignment close to her heart.
"I'm coming back home to help out family and friends and my community," she said.
A challenge the Red Cross faced for days is getting volunteers like Kearsley into Houston to help. Many who originally deployed to Houston, are stuck in Austin.
"It's impossible to get in and out of Houston. Houston is an island. The highways are closed. The airports are closed. So it's a very, very difficult situation," explained Matt Teter, Tuesday morning. Teter is handling public affairs for American Red Cross at the Austin Convention Center.
During a morning announcement to volunteers, an organizer said nearly 9,000 people spent Monday night at a mega-shelter in Downtown Houston, and plans are underway to open another.
"You won't be going into [Houston], but we're going to get you closer, because we need you there," said Melody Gayeski, speaking into a microphone.
The Red Cross coordinated bus transportation to get volunteers to a "rallying point" which was Hempstead, a city along the road to Houston, as close as they could get before the road in became impassible.
Kearsley says she wanted to get to Houston to help, because she knows what people there are going through, "They lost everything, and they're just trying to grab hold to any hope they can from anywhere, that's why the Red Cross gives people hope."
Once four large buses carrying dozens of volunteers reached Hempstead, a single lane of Highway 290 headed into Houston opened up, making a way for them to continue into the city by land.
For volunteers staying in Austin, plans are underway to open another mega-shelter at the Austin Convention Center.
"Right now there are about 10,000 people in Texas and Red Cross shelters. That number is going to increase substantially. There's still people who are stranded in Houston and so we are preparing for a much larger number than that right now," said Teter.
Teter says this is one of the largest operations the Red Cross has had in over a decade, and it's just getting started.