The Katrina Relief Effort in Houston Collection MSS.0127
On August 29, 2005, the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history, with respect to personnel dislocation and property damage, struck the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. While the Galveston storm of 1900 was far deadlier, this storm caused disruption, physical destruction, and national dissatisfaction with all levels of government on a far greater scale. The estimated loss of life is 1,836 people with property damage in excess of $81 billion. Much of the devastation resulted when the levee system in New Orleans failed. A large portion of the city was flooded by up to nine feet of water filled with sewage, chemical products from flooded plants and refineries, and occasional drowning victims. This lake of refuse remained for days, leaving homes and businesses beyond repair, requiring many blocks of the city to be torn down and removed. This task continues as of this writing and will do so indefinitely. Over 120,000 people lost their homes within hours. Relief efforts by the local, state and national governments were at first frustratingly unresponsive, then late, uncoordinated, and finally inadequate. Horror stories of violence and crime, later determined as exaggerated, emitted from the Superdome in New Orleans and symbolized the chaos. People were driven to escape from New Orleans by whatever means possible, including an unlicensed youth who stole a school bus, drove several people to Houston, and became a short-lived national hero.
It was in the actions of the City of Houston and Houstonians that the nation found a significant measure of redemption. An ad hoc committee of businessmen, religious leaders, social agency directors and others headed by Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels worked tirelessly for weeks to coordinate a massive relief effort staffed by hundreds of volunteers from all walks of life. The Harris County Domed Stadium, better known as the Astrodome, on the south side of Houston’s downtown, became a massive dormitory without walls for the survivors as thousands of cots were set up on the main floor. Later, the George R. Brown Convention Center was put into service. As the 150,000 hurricane survivors arrived, security personnel checked identifications, weeding out those who might be a threat. Medical personnel diagnosed health problems, treated injuries, and administered vaccinations. Clothing contributed by area residents was distributed. People were fed. For the first time in days, survivors had access to sanitation facilities, clothing, food, medical attention, security from human predators, and even a small library, courtesy of the Houston Public Library. Efforts were made to reunite families and loved ones who had been scattered over thirty states from Arizona to Massachusetts without knowing who had survived much less where they were. There was little privacy and people had lost control of their lives, but only gratitude was expressed.
By the middle of September, the convention and sports venues were vacant as survivors were moved into hotels, apartments and vacant homes, usually paid for by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Relocation was expedited as another major hurricane, Rita, bore down on Texas and southwest Louisiana, making landfall on September 24, 2005, causing considerable property damage in east Texas and western Louisiana. The overall disruption caused by the two powerful storms will require extensive recovery efforts.
As of the processing of this collection, survivors continue to need assistance as many are without employment and thus cannot afford rent or other basics of life. FEMA continues to struggle with the housing situation and its own internal difficulties. The "welcome mat" in Houston has been worn thin by the demands of people upon social systems that were inadequate to meet the needs of Houston before Katrina. The answers remain over the horizon.
This collection is a series of records from various social agencies, the City of Houston, and other organizations that all made an effort to relieve the human and animal suffering of this disaster. It is an artificial collection in that these records were created by no one person or organization, but were gathered from various groups to partially explain how Houstonians by the hundreds assisted the many thousands of survivors, all strangers to one another. The havoc wreaked by the storm, while the cause of this massive effort, is of secondary concern to this collection. Newspapers describing the storm’s impact can be found in Series 5 and extensive coverage can be found in other media.
The Collection consists primarily of copies of correspondence, emails, newspaper articles, brochures, newsletters, photographs, web sites, and other items created between August 2005, and February 2007. Additional material may be added.
Permission to publish or reproduce materials from the Katrina Relief Effort in Houston papers must be obtained from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center or the appropriate copyright holder.
The Katrina Relief Effort in Houston. Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
Acquisitions were made by contacting individuals and organizations with requests for information. Responses varied from those organizations responding in depth without prompting, to those who needed several reminders to a few who would not respond at all. Organizations were selected by their prominence in the relief effort, as they became known, and others that would not be considered mainstream. Newspapers were a ready source of information about ongoing events.
Processed by: Ron Drees, January 2007.
Detailed Description of the Collection