Local family ready to help Houston on road to recovery

By Lois Ann Dort    

THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS – On Sunday morning when The Journal spoke to Lori MacDonald Salsman at her home in The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston, Texas, the rain had finally stopped. But the recovery from Hurricane Harvey was just beginning.

MacDonald Salsman, originally from Guysborough and her husband Gary Salsman from Stormont have been living in Texas for just over a year. When they moved their family of five to the Houston area -- a work transfer in the energy sector for Salsman -- they considered the possibility of flooding in choosing the location of their new home. Luckily that attention to detail paid off and the family has been spared any direct losses as Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast. But the area is far from returning to business as usual and this Nova Scotia family wants to help, where and how they can, those less fortunate.

In the days leading up to the storm, everyone in the greater Houston area was on high alert; not knowing what to expect and hoping for the best. For MacDonald Salsman the biggest concern was medical; two of her three children are Type I diabetics. Securing a back up supply of insulin was not easy, as unlike the Canadian system, Texas pharmacies won’t give a month’s supply of meds in advance—even in the face of on oncoming emergency.

After securing a buffer supply of insulin, but not as much as they family would have liked given the uncertainty of coming days, they hunkered down to wait out the storm. The kids stayed home from school and Salsman worked from his home office.

The official line from the local government was for residents to stay at home and not venture out unless you had watercraft that could assist in the rescue of citizens caught up in the flood. This was one of the hardest aspects of the disaster for MacDonald Salsman, “feeling helpless and unable to do anything.”

MacDonald Salsman, like most other people in North America, watched the disaster just down the street unfold on Facebook and network news. It was surreal to know that a few streets away from her untouched neighbourhood, so many people had been displaced and suffered great losses. “If you looked out in our backyard you would not know there was utter devastation a few blocks away,” she told The Journal on Sunday.

“Friday, a week and a half ago, was our last normal day. I knew I would not get outside again for a long time so I went for a long walk and took lots of pictures of trees,” said MacDonald Salsman.

Then the rain came. “It rained so hard for so long; you couldn’t believe there was still rain coming,” she said. When it finally did stop it was replaced with heat, humidity and lots of bugs.

This past weekend recovery efforts began and they will be ongoing for many months and perhaps years, said MacDonald Salsman.

On Friday Gary Salsman and a group of volunteers from his employer, TransCanada, went out to gut a house that had suffered severe water damage during the storm. Earlier in the week the company trucked emergency kits which included cots, wet/dry vacs, generators and bottled water to the Houston area where company employees volunteered to distributed the supplies.

None of this surprises MacDonald Salsman; ordinary citizens and locally based companies are all pitching in to help in the aftermath of Harvey. “The sense of community and the spirit to help out strangers and neighbours is strong,” she said.

She also points out that the people most affected are those with the least. Many survivors of Hurricane Katrina moved to Houston in the aftermath of that disaster; just over 10 years later they may be forced to start over again.

This isn’t MacDonald Salsman’s first experience of a natural disaster either; the family lived in Calgary in the flood of June, 2013. Again, the family was out of harm’s way but lived with school closures and the recovery efforts that gripped the city for the weeks that followed. “I was impressed by the spirit of Calgary and it is very much the same here…This morning a lady posted a pic on Facebook, she was in an area that had no water; within a minute 90 people responded and were heading out.”

MacDonald Salsman is confident that with all the big corporate players in the Houston area – oil and gas, NASA, and world-renowned medical centres—the city and surrounding area will make its way back from this disaster.

For the moment, as Gary Salsman undertakes the heartbreaking task of forcing a family to part with a lifetime’s worth of memories and possessions corrupted by toxic flood water, he’s touched by the sheer number of volunteers; doing back breaking labour in such hot, unpleasant conditions, when they could be out enjoying a sunny day on a long weekend with their families.