Volunteer groups join forces with city to clean up storm’s damage

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When the storm hit Kilgore on March 14, emergency responders were working to free people trapped in their houses before the sun came up.

Maebeth Avant woke up that morning to find her house on Dudley Road unharmed but several huge trees had fallen all around her house.

“I’d like to give God credit because when the storm came and all of this exploded, I slept right through it. I didn’t even know until I woke up the next morning,” Avant said.

On Friday, a Team Rubicon crew arrived at her home and said they were there to clean up the fallen trees and branches in her yard – for free.

“God bless them, every one. I am so thankful. I tell you, God takes such good care of me,” Avant said.

Team Rubicon is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that responds to disaster areas across the U.S. and around the world. Volunteers come from many backgrounds and from all age groups but all come together for the same purpose: providing relief to those affected by disasters.

They’d been at Avant’s house since daybreak Friday and were hard at work breaking down trees with chainsaws and piling limbs and debris for City of Kilgore workers to haul away.

“We started at the beginning of the week very, very soon after the disaster hit and we’ll be here probably through the weekend. We’ll end up doing over 20 jobs,” said Oscar Arauco, Texas State Coordinator for Team Rubicon.

“We’ll help anyone but we work with the city to try to help those who need more help,” he said.

Among the people they helped in Kilgore were several elderly residents who could not do the cleanup work themselves. At Avant’s home, Team Rubicon crew members cleared a path through debris from her front door to her mailbox so she could check for any letters she received.

“There’s about 90,000 to 100,000 people nationwide, they’re scattered all over. Bigger cities have more. Generally, we rally to where the diaster is. It can be one like Kilgore. In addition to this right now, we’re gearing up to go to Nebraska. They’ve got a lot of flooding up there,” Arauco said.

The organization, which partners with FEMA and trains its members to FEMA standards, also pitched in with the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort in 2017.

Arauco said Team Rubicon’s members come from across the nation and from many walks of life, including military veterans.

“Everyone’s a volunteer. Some people are taking time off of work or are retired. Some people are college students who are between classes. There’s a place for everyone in Team Rubicon.”

Tom Small, from College Station, has been with the team for about a year and on Friday was raking debris from Avant’s yard to stack it up for removal.

“I love these guys. When we all come together, we don’t know each other, but we all learn to know each other and we work as teams. It’s incredible. We just come to get a job done and that’s what we’re here for,” Small said.

Team Rubicon coordinated with Jonathan Latham, Victim Services Coordinator for Kilgore Police Department, to locate addresses where their help was needed most. Forest Home Baptist Church provided a place for the team to rest and sleep for their stay in East Texas.

Avant and her caretaker Joy Mason gave the team a reward that they were all excited for: a homemade chocolate cake.

Aaron Marshall, Team Rubicon’s Incident Management Team Coordinator, produced a press release describing the organization’s work in Kilgore.

“Team Rubicon, a veteran-led global disaster response organization, is currently providing assistance to Kilgore, Texas as part of Operation: Black Gold in response to recent straight line wind damage. Team Rubicon volunteers will provide chainsaw assistance and damage assessment to the Kilgore community. Team Rubicon boasts a 90,000-strong, highly skilled veteran volunteer force that helps communities stabilize and recover after a devastating natural disaster,” the release read.

The City of Kilgore also sent out a press release and statements concerning the cleanup and recovery efforts.

“Kilgore residents and City staff are continuing a large-scale cleanup effort following the severe straight-line winds that hit Kilgore; damaging homes, vehicles, downing power lines and irreplaceable heritage trees in its wake. The storm that struck early last Thursday morning resulted in damage primarily to the southern portions of the city, hitting the southwest corner and stretching a mile northeast, towards Forest Home Baptist Church,” the release read.

“Some of this damage can be deceiving. If a tree falls on your home, the outside of it may look fine while you’ve got major structural damage on the inside. We’ve seen a few homes that fall into that category,” said City Manager Josh Selleck. “Where possible, we are issuing same day permits help expedite repairs for home-owners who need them. While we understand the urgency and desire to get back into their homes, we want to make sure that the repairs are safe and will not cause problems down the road for homeowners.”

City cleanup crews are hard at work picking up and removing debris but the effort may take a month or more to complete. Crews are starting on the hardest-hit neighborhoods first then focusing on the remainder of the project.

Director of Parks and Facilities Danny Downing asked residents to be patient about the cleanup process, as the city is pulling workers from other areas to work on the storm cleanup but the city’s green waste facility is filling up quickly.

Residents can help the process by placing only tree and brush debris in at the curb for collection, making sure it is not co-mingled with other debris, bags of leaves or trash that can’t go to the green waste facility. It is also important to ensure that contractors obtain the correct permits before commencing work on major repairs. To find out if you require a permit, please contact the City of Kilgore Permit Office at josie.atchley@cityofkilgore.com or (903) 988- 4119.

To learn more about Team Rubicon and their work, visit www.TeamRubiconUSA.org.

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