Missionary from Powell helping with cleanup in Houston


Former resident tells of struggles he and other Houstonians face after Hurricane Harvey

Now that floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey are beginning to recede, Houstonians are starting the very difficult process of cleaning up after the disaster.

Among the people helping with that process is Cody Akin, who is serving a mission in Houston for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

His parents, Larry and Maurine Akin of Powell, received an email from him on Monday — the first direct communication they had from him since Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area.

His father, Larry Akin of Powell, said Cody is living in Alvin, a suburb of Houston.

“Even though he didn’t have to evacuate, he and his companion were forced to stay in their apartment from Friday (Aug. 25), the day the hurricane came on land, until the following Wednesday (Aug. 30),” Larry Akin wrote in an email.

Maurine Akin, Cody’s mother, said the Houston South misson president, Aaron T. Hall, instructed the missionaries in the area to stock up with enough water and food to last a week.

Hall repeatedly assured parents that all missionaries were safe and accounted for, Maurine Akin said.

Those in low-lying areas were moved to other areas; those not affected by the flooding were instructed to stay home during the flooding, she said.

“They didn’t want them in harm’s way,” she said.

Mucking out flooded homes

Cody Akin and other missionaries are able to leave their apartments now that the floodwaters are beginning to subside.

“They have joined up with the recovery efforts as volunteers,” Larry Akin wrote. “They go into the neighborhoods, street by street, house by house, and help the residents with the cleanup. They tear out wet flooring, drywall, insulation and wet furniture.”

Cody Akin told his parents that people are comparing the Hurricane Harvey disaster to damage done in Europe during World War II.

Maurine Akin said her son told about helping muck out a home where the family had been forced to evacuate from the second story in a boat. The family had four full refrigerators or freezers — which had been without power for a week. In Houston’s heat, all the food had spoiled.

“There was 6 feet of water in the home,” she said. “He said it was just sickening.”

Maurine Akin said Cody also wrote about moving pianos — heavy to start with, made much heavier by soaking-wet wood. Cody relayed to his parents that, he’s “incredibly tired.”

“I have not been this tired in a while, but I will be alright,” he said.

In a Facebook post, mission president Hall described the missionaries’ work as being like moving, “but with everything soaking wet and with very little packed.”

“They remove all furniture and household goods. They then remove the carpet, cut the dry wall approximately 1-2 inches above the flood line, remove the insulation, and prepare the home to be restored,” Hall wrote. “It is hot, smelly, arduous work, but the missionaries are happy to do it and do it with energy.”

The scope of the problem is almost unimaginable. KHOU.com reported that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner expects crews to remove 8 million cubic yards of waste material — enough to fill nearly 2,500 Olympic-size swimming pools.

‘We had time’

AJ Cozzens, formerly of Powell and now of Houston, said his family — unlike most — had some advance warning that their neighborhood would flood due to large reservoir releases.

“We had time to take steps,” he said. “We managed to move everything other than a heavy wooden table.”

Lightweight items were taken upstairs to the second floor. The family moved some patio furniture inside on the first floor and placed heavier items on top of the patio furniture to keep it dry, Cozzens said.

As of last week, there was a foot of water in the house, but he had to paddle a boogie board over 5 to 6 feet of water to get into the neighborhood, Cozzens said.

But he said that was pretty tame compared to other people’s struggles.

“The folks who woke up with 4 and 5 feet of water in their room in the middle of the night — those are the folks that really have problems,” he said.

Cozzens said his family was staying with friends in an area that didn’t flood. When the water leaves his home, he expects to have many hours of work to remove water-soaked wall board and flooring before it becomes moldy.

He also expects transportation to be a major headache for the foreseeable future.

His normal commute to work is 1 1/2 miles. Now, to get around flooded bridges and other infrastructure problems, Cozzens estimated he is facing a commute of between 25 and 30 miles.

“But you’ve got to remember, everybody in Houston that needs to go north is having to do the same thing,” and that will result in very congested traffic, he said. “So many people are trying to access these routes.”

‘The best and the worst’

Cozzens said a disaster such as this one brings out the best and the worst in people.

“A man came to my wife in Target and said, ‘What do you think people in the shelter need most?’ He was buying a shopping cart full of stuff to take to the shelter,” Cozzens said.

On the other hand, looting started after the hurricane subsided, he said.

Cozzens said newscasters warned that snakes and alligators were in the flood water. But the video they showed of several alligators was taken at an alligator preserve and, despite the impression the footage gave, the problem actually was quite small.

“There was people scared out of their minds,” he said.

Cody Akin told his parents that Hurricane Harvey had humbled many people. Larry Akin said that, “One man walked up to the missionaries, gave them a hug and thanked them for helping and said, ‘I have been a very bad boy and I need to do better.’”

Hurricane Harvey’s destruction also has motivated people around the country to do what they can to help.

Powell Middle School students and staff are among them. They are donating various items to the Aldine Independent School District, which serves families in the Houston area. The school district has eight preschools, 33 elementary schools, 11 intermediate schools, 10 middle schools, five ninth-grade schools and eight high schools.

“As part of a way for students to connect to our country, we have been talking about what we could do to help people in Texas,” wrote Stephanie Warren, a sixth-grade teacher, in a letter to Powell Middle School students and families.

Warren has been in touch with a teacher in the Aldine district following the hurricane.

“Let’s offer a little ray of sunshine and hope to the Aldine students of Houston,” Warren wrote. “What a great way to show them the heart of Wyoming!”

(Tessa Baker contributed to this report.)