Editor’s note: This article was written in early September for the print edition of the Seafarers LOG. We’re posting it here to reflect the efforts of Seafarers up to that point. Future editions will include additional reporting on the relief operations, not only for Harvey but also for Irma and Maria.
The rain from Hurricane Harvey hadn’t completely stopped before SIU members and officials in Houston mobilized to assist victims of the massive storm that battered large parts of Texas in late August.
Teaming up with other trade unionists through the Texas AFL-CIO and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, Seafarers donated and handed out various relief items at the start of what is expected to be a years-long recovery. The SIU hall in Houston – offering meals and other assistance – also became a regular gathering place for members who suffered property damage.
“We’ve had a great response,” said SIU Vice President Gulf Coast Dean Corgey, who also serves as a commissioner on the Port of Houston Authority. “Special recognition ought to be given to the SIU crews at G&H Towing. When everybody knew the storm was coming, all the guys reported for duty and stayed on the boats. They did their job and sacrificed, even while some of them knew that their own homes were being flooded. But they kept navigation safe, and then when the channels reopened, they were there. They fulfilled their duties in an extremely professional manner, under exceptionally difficult circumstances.”
Corgey said that while it wasn’t yet possible to identify an exact number of SIU members in the region who’d suffered property damage from the hurricane, “Overall, it doesn’t appear to be as bad as it might have been, but we know we’ve got members who are hurting. We’re doing everything we can to help.”
Harvey made landfall along the middle Texas coast on Aug. 25. The Category 4 storm was the first “major” hurricane (as classified by the National Weather Service) to strike south Texas since Celia in 1970, and the first hurricane to hit the state’s coast since Ike in 2008. Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on parts of the state, and left approximately 30 percent of Harris County (which includes Houston) under water. Damages from the storm are projected to cost tens of billions of dollars.
The SIU’s Houston hall itself fared remarkably well and did not flood at all. When the newly built facility opened in 2016, first-time visitors often cited its spacious, comfortable interior and ample parking. But potential flooding was a major consideration in the hall’s planning, Corgey said, and while neither he nor the union’s other officials necessarily envisioned something as calamitous as Harvey, they chose a relatively elevated spot for preventive purposes.
“The building was also designed and engineered specifically to avoid a catastrophe such as this – to withstand this kind of situation,” Corgey said.
The hall was closed for a few days in late August but reopened Aug. 31. A day later, temporary phones were made available for members to call the hall while the regular land lines remained out.
Meanwhile, the SIU began working with the state labor federation for formal relief efforts. As noted on the Texas AFLCIO website, “The Texas Workers Relief Fund, a 501(c)(3) charitable fund, overseen by the Texas AFL-CIO, has been established to assist workers and their families in their time of need. Funds are provided to help stabilize situations when issues occur such as natural disasters. While we cannot make anyone whole, the Texas Workers Relief Fund sends a message of solidarity and the knowledge that working people affected by this disaster are supported by Brothers and Sisters across the nation.”
Donations may be made online or by mail (the SIU has made a contribution). The website for the relief fund is: http://www.texasaflcio.org/donate/
As further noted on the website, anyone who wants to send a check should make it payable to:
Texas Workers Relief Fund
Memo: Hurricane Harvey
And send to:
P.O. Box 12727
Austin, TX 78711
Seafarers in need of assistance are encouraged to contact the SIU’s Houston hall.
Moreover, the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center (NMC) on Aug. 31 posted instructions for replacing mariner credentials lost due to Harvey. That information is available in an Aug. 31 post in the News section of the SIU website. Mariners also may email the NMC at IASKNMC@uscg. mil or call them at 1-888-IASKNMC (1- 888-427-5662).
Involved from the Start
Corgey pointed out that members from the union’s deep-sea division also pitched in before the hurricane arrived. Seafarers crewed up a number of vessels in the region and sailed them out of harm’s way.
Then, in early September, SIU members helped crew up two government-owned training vessels that were slated for mobilization to Texas. Those ships – the Kennedy and the Empire State – were expected to serve as housing for Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel and others involved in relief operations.
“From the start, this has been one of the smoothest emergency responses that I’ve seen,” Corgey observed. “Our industry doesn’t really get the recognition others get, but the SIU has been deeply involved in this whole operation. I’m proud of our members and really proud of the whole port community here – the Coast Guard, the tug companies, the port authority, the longshoremen. We’ve made sure we got the port shut down at the right time and then got it back up and running as soon as possible. The flow of commerce here is critical to the whole country.”
He added that SIU boatmen overcame exceptionally challenging navigation issues when assisting vessels in and out of port. G&H Towing, which operates more than 30 SIU-crewed boats, has been especially active, he said.
“This is an opportune time for the general public to learn that trucks and airplanes have their roles, but it takes maritime traffic to maintain our economy,” Corgey concluded. “I just can’t say enough about the job our members have done.”
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