Hurricane flood ‘came through the back door and didn’t even knock’

The small town of Wharton, Texas, withstood the initial blast of Hurricane Harvey.

But the hurricane’s rainfall and subsequent floodwaters inundated the Colorado River and Peach Creek, buffeting the town of nearly 9,000 residents.

“We usually watch for the river, to the west — that’s the front door,” said Johnnie Gonzales, past commander of Post 87 in Wharton. “This one came through the back door and didn’t even knock.”

Wharton was flooded, and essentially cut off from the outside world. American Legion Post 87 stepped up to shelter and feed those who fled their homes. Gonzales reached out to community members in Wharton and invited them into the post home.

“It was stressful,” Gonzales said. “We evacuated (our home) and helped out the neighborhood. After we got settled in (to the post), on day one, the members of The American Legion fired up the pit so we could feed the people that we had here. And we had about 30 people the first night. And then after that, we housed about 120-150 people.”

He credits other communities and organizations for sending aid — from Nebraska to South Carolina to Virginia and throughout the state of Texas. Local restaurants provided meals.

“In fact, I think they gained more weight,” he says of those who stayed at the post. “It was awesome. My adrenaline was going up so high that I didn’t have time to think how tired I was until finally the middle of the second week, they started letting us back in to our homes to assess our stuff.”

In the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, about $150,000 in donations has poured into the Legion’s National Emergency Fund (NEF). Immediate cash grants of $3,000 are awarded to eligible American Legion and Sons of The American Legion members who have been affected by natural disasters. Affected posts can receive grants up to $10,000.

Due to the recent succession of hurricanes, the 90-day deadline for applying for NEF funds has been waived. To donate or apply for aid, visit www.legion.org/nef.

Additionally, the Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program assists Legion-eligible veterans with minor children who need financial help to pay for shelter, food, utilities and medical expenses. To donate or apply for aid, visit www.legion.org/tfa.

As Harvey roared through Wharton, the town received rain for 48 hours straight, District 9 Commander Charles Miller said, noting that the damage was widespread in the rural area southwest of Houston. “Everyone in the district suffered,” he said. “There are 47 posts in the 9th District and all the members of all the posts had problems with the hurricane.”

Miller visited Wharton last week to deliver checks that were donated by other districts in the Department of Texas.

“I am very proud of all the members of my district for all that they have done,” Miller said. “We had several other posts that opened their doors to evacuees also. And everybody has been helping everybody else. I am proud of all the support that we have gotten from the Department of Texas, and Commander John Hince.”

Assistance came from throughout the Legion Family.

Margie Delatorre is president of Auxiliary Unit 2 in San Antonio. After Harvey hit, her unit donated $2,000 to the Texas Emergency Fund, an Auxiliary program, but they weren’t finished.

“The more we heard about the devastation in the news, we put together a (Mexican bingo),” she said. “All of the unit members got together and we made chalupas and pastries and other things and we had games to raise funds. Overall, we made over $1,000 that will go to the NEF fund.”

Miller also brought NEF applications when he visited Wharton.

“We are veterans and we’re supposed to help other veterans,” he said. “The Wharton post has done an exemplarity job of helping out their community — and not just other veterans. People who needed supplies came to the Wharton post and received supplies that were donated by other posts and by FEMA.”