Biloxi relief teams leave for Texas on Thursday

Relief teams will be leaving Biloxi Thursday and Friday to begin a week of work in Rockport, a small Texas coast town that was decimated by 130 mph winds of Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 25.

A team of six volunteers will begin the 10-hour drive Thursday morning, and a team of eight will be leaving Friday morning.

Rockport, a town of less than 10,000 residents about 30 miles north of Corpus Christi, was chosen after discussions with the town’s fire department.  Harvey made its initial landfall in Rockport as a Category 4 hurricane on the night of Aug. 25.

“They were very happy to hear our call and wanted us to come,” said Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney, who has organized a host of relief efforts to storm-stricken areas across the country in the 12 years since Hurricane Katrina struck Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“They’ve had some volunteers in Rockport since the storm, but what they’re really looking for is another fire department to help them get set up.”

Boney said the Biloxi contingent, which includes off-duty firefighters from Keesler Air Force Base and Jackson County Fire Services and civilian volunteers, will help Rockport establish a donation center for long-term, sustained efforts “and help their members get on their feet so they can operate more efficiently.”

Said Boney: “We’re going to help them set up quarters to house visiting volunteers, as we did in the wake of Katrina. We housed volunteers from departments from across the country here, from Atlanta to Charleston to Portland, Ore., and we’re going to help Rockport set up similar quarters for their volunteers.

“Some of our people also are going to work on firefighters homes in Rockport. In some cases, these men haven’t even been able to touch their homes.”

The Biloxi crew will meet up with a five-member Iowa squad that arrives on Saturday after a 16-hour drive.

“We have three trailers that we’ll be taking,” Boney said. “One is for supplies, one is for tools and one is for a heavy piece of equipment that we’ve made arrangements to rent in Corpus Christi.”

Boney said relief efforts also are in the works for the Florida victims of Hurricane Irma.

“We’re still waiting to hear,” Boney said. “The thing people have to understand is that the work we do is done a week or two after the incident. The people we help have to have already worked with their insurance company and made decisions on what they’re going to do with their property.

“Once those decisions are made, and once things settle down, we move in and do the most good. We’re headed to Texas right now, and although we’re planning to help in Florida, we don’t have specific plans yet.”

You can still help: The West End Hose Co. No. 3, the city’s all-volunteer fire museum, is continuing to accept online donations for the Hurricane Harvey relief effort.  The fund-raising drive, which uses the online GoFundMe site, has raised $3,400 since it began two weeks ago.  To make a secure donation, click here.