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Former Petalumans hit by Hurricane Harvey

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HOW TO HELP:

General efforts: Organizations such as the Greater Houston Community Foundation, GlobalGiving, United Way of Greater Houston, The Red Cross and The Salvation Army have fundraising campaigns or are on the ground helping.

Food security: Donate to money a food bank, such as the Houston Food Bank or the Central Texas Food Bank.

Seniors: Donate to the AARP Foundation’s Harvey relief fund.

Kids: Save the Children is offering relief supplies, and the Texas Diaper Bank is working to meet basic needs as well.

Pets: Shelters, including the SPCA of Texas and The American Human Society are active in the area.

Be sure to vet a charity using a site like charitynavigator.org before making a donation. More information can be found at fema.gov/hurricane-harvey.

Though she’d heard reports about the impending landfall of Hurricane Harvey, Amanda Boswell had no plans to leave the Texas home she’d bought with her husband in December 2015. On Aug. 25, as the storm touched down on the town of Richmond, just outside of Houston, the Petaluma native huddled in with her 2-year-old son and their pets after getting gas, food and ice and hurriedly battening down the hatches.

“We were at home all day (Saturday) and we drove around the neighborhood a little bit, nothing was happening. But it was still raining,” said Boswell, who is four and a half months pregnant. “It was a false sense of security … Saturday night it rained so much it topped the rain gauge.”

She called off plans to go to church Sunday morning after the roads were impassable from flooding. Boswell and her husband packed up a few belongings and on Monday morning, after they were forced to release water from the overflowing pool in their yard several times, the family decided it was time to go.

Since their home isn’t in a flood plain, the couple doesn’t have flood insurance, so it was with heavy hearts and deep uncertainty that the 32-year-old closed the door on the life she’d come to love.

“We had no idea what was going to happen,” she said. “We had no idea what we were going to see again. The worst part in the moment was thinking of all the stuff you forgot to do and knowing that you can’t go back.”

A small creek that snaked through the neighborhood was torso deep, forcing Boswell, her son and dogs to cross the quarter mile expanse of water in a rowboat brought to the neighborhood by a good Samaritan to help with rescue efforts. The family donned life jackets, and their pet Labrador swam alongside the boat as they evacuated.

They landed at a friend’s house, where five dogs, seven adults and three young children displaced from the storm took refuge. After staying with friends and in-laws, the couple returned Friday to find their home safe and dry, though the barn had flooded and the front yard was infested with fire ants and littered with objects that rode in with the floodwaters, including fence posts and a shed door.

This weekend, residual floodwaters seeped into their garage while the family helped others in the neighborhood pick up the pieces destroyed by the storm, which meandered its way from Texas to Louisiana, leaving colossal damage in its wake while claiming the lives of at least 60 people across eight counties.

As the water recedes, communities are learning the full extent of the damage from the storm, which also caused a fire at a chemical plant, overwhelmed first responders and brought with it a host of environmental concerns stemming from flooding.

“One of the reasons I wanted to stay here was the fact that people are just so accommodating,” said Boswell, a Petaluma High School graduate who attended Texas A&M University. “It’s surprising to me to have such overwhelming support … Here, it’s been 24/7 storm coverage and nothing else, and in all these other neighborhoods like ours, people are showing up with boats and helping people evacuate.”

Watching the community mobilize to help its own was also a heartening moment for Ashley Burton-Smith, who grew up in Petaluma before moving to Houston three years ago. She lives in a condo by a bayou, and was forced to pack up her belongings and evacuate as water rose through her complex.

HOW TO HELP:

General efforts: Organizations such as the Greater Houston Community Foundation, GlobalGiving, United Way of Greater Houston, The Red Cross and The Salvation Army have fundraising campaigns or are on the ground helping.

Food security: Donate to money a food bank, such as the Houston Food Bank or the Central Texas Food Bank.

Seniors: Donate to the AARP Foundation’s Harvey relief fund.

Kids: Save the Children is offering relief supplies, and the Texas Diaper Bank is working to meet basic needs as well.

Pets: Shelters, including the SPCA of Texas and The American Human Society are active in the area.

Be sure to vet a charity using a site like charitynavigator.org before making a donation. More information can be found at fema.gov/hurricane-harvey.

Leaving her car behind, she walked with suitcases and her cat’s crate in tow, quickly learning that the flooding had interfered with her planned escape route. A city worker gave the 34-year-old real estate agent and her roommate a ride to a nearby hotel, where they were surrounded by other families forced from their homes.

Burton-Smith and her roommate shared food, water and supplies they’d purchased after hitchhiking to a nearby gas station. She’s since volunteered at the Houston Food Bank and helped distribute supplies.

“It’s been extremely amazing the way people have jumped into action,” she said. “They just do it, it’s not about who’s doing more or who’s doing less, it’s just a great feeling of family here.”

Burton-Smith returned to her house several days ago to find an apocalyptic scene, though her condo was dry and her car operable.

“Our complex looked like a scene out of ‘Mad Max’,” she said. “It was covered in mud, dirt and trash and people’s lawn furniture was on top of the carports and those big green trash cans were resting on the hoods of people’s cars. It looked like a war zone.”

In Petaluma, Burton-Smith’s mother, Carla Lynch, has been following the news of her daughter’s plight and has already sent several boxes of supplies gathered from residents across the city. She took to Facebook to seek donations, and said she was overwhelmed by the response from the community, who gave money, clothes, baby supplies and more. As of Saturday, 37,000 people were still in shelters across Texas, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“People are amazing,” said Lynch, who plans to volunteer to aid with relief efforts when she visits her daughter in Houston later this month.

For Bonnie Hendrickson, who moved to Mansfield, Texas last year after living in Petaluma for nearly six decades, lending a hand was the only option. Though her town is about four hours from Houston, hotels rooms were inundated with those escaping flood waters, and she’s been rounding up supplies to drop off at the hotels, she said.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to shut off the TV and get out of the house and start doing some stuff,” she said.

The Petaluma community is also rallying on social media, where residents are discussing ways to make an impact. Kathleen Rose Stafford, who co-owns Pongo’s Kitchen and Tap, plans to donate 15 percent of every ticket from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday to the American Red Cross and The Humane Society of the United States.

“We want to do as much as we can and this is our way of helping out,” she said. “We can’t give a lot, but our community is always willing to help out. This is a way our community can work together and give.”