Metro area groups headed to help Harvey victims

Michigan is rallying to help with reinforcements and emergency response vehicles as Texas remains immersed in catastrophic flooding from a powerful storm.

As waters reached roof lines of homes around Houston, Metro Detroit charities and organizations sent people, fleets of vehicles and volunteers for the Harvey rescue efforts, including from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, the Ford Fund, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and local U.S. Coast Guard, where the Great Lakes resources are “uniquely capable” in shallow-water rescues.

“This is major,” said Red Cross spokesman Perry Rech. “This is the largest weather event we’ve encountered since (Hurricane) Sandy.”

Rech said the Red Cross has sent 60 people to Houston. “Michigan is well into the fray,” he said Monday. “We’ve got emergency response vehicles going down, we have people on the ground. We have our full national fleet deployed,” eventually totaling the eight emergency response vehicles in the agency’s Michigan fleet.

Those vehicles, said Bob Blumenfeld, chief operating officer of the Michigan region of the Red Cross, carry “a fair amount of materials and infrastructure” to aid in disaster relief — food, bottled water, blankets, “clean-up kits” consisting of buckets, rubber gloves and disinfectant.

The Salvation Army’s Eastern Michigan Division is among the local groups helping out hurricane victims.

The Southfield-based charity is asking for money donations but has not yet sent anyone, said spokeswoman Andrea Kenski.

“We’re waiting for the call from our national headquarters, but we have our Emergency Disaster Services teams ready to go,” she said.

She said Metro Detroiters can make donations through the division’s website or by calling (877) 725-6424 (SALMICH). It is not accepting donations of physical goods, like water or clothing for hurricane victims.

The Ford Fund is putting $100,000 into disaster relief efforts in Texas and said it would match up to $50,000 more in employee and dealership contributions to the Red Cross.

Coast Guard stations in St. Clair Shores and Saginaw River each sent an airboat over the weekend to help rescue efforts in Texas, said Petty Officer Brian McCrum, a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 9th District.

The airboats are flat-bottomed aluminum vessels, 20 or 22 feet long, driven by an aircraft engine with a large propeller in the back.

In Great Lakes states, the airboats are meant for ice rescue but are useful in shallow water where a submerged propeller would be impractical.

The Coast Guard’s Sector Detroit sent 21 people to Texas, as well as 12 guardsmen to help with engineering support, said Lt. Jodie Knox, a spokeswoman. It was preparing to send nine more, including three boat crews on a C-27 Tuesday, as well as seven quick-deployable inflatable rescue boats and a skiff boat, Knox said.

“It sounds like a lot of resources, but the Great Lakes has these resources that are uniquely capable of shallow-water operations,” Knox said.

Airboats and crews were also sent from Coast Guard Station Marblehead on Lake Erie in Ohio and from Station Sturgeon Bay on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, as well as two helicopters from Waukegan, on Lake Michigan in Illinois, McCrum said. An air crew of seven deployed from Traverse City to Texas on Monday, he said.

The Coast Guard was working to cover the gaps left by the deployments with supervisors stepping into the duty rotation, Knox said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Northern Region Air and Marine Operations on Monday sent a Black Hawk helicopter out of Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township with a crew of four.

Bound for Houston was Spirit Airlines, which evacuated about 100 passengers from IAH airport to Detroit on Monday, said Spirit representative Stephen Schuler. “The rescue flight left Houston at about 4:30 local time with passengers who had been stranded at the airport since Hurricane Harvey flooded roads and airport runways, closing the airport,” he said. Passengers will receive “free flights to Detroit and any connecting flights in Spirit's network.”

The Red Cross’ Blumenfeld said some of the 60 volunteers flew into Dallas, some into Austin and some directly into Houston for two-week stints.

Blumenfeld put the flooding in Houston in the context of the recent flooding in Midland in June.

“... Eight inches of rain,” he said. “The river crested 14 inches above its max, and people had 8 feet of water in their basement. Houston had 30 to 50 inches of rain. This is going to go on for a long time. It’s devastating.”