Elite members of United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit will be arriving in flood-stricken Texas this afternoon to help locals cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, America’s fiercest storm on record.

Sent by the Israel Rescue Coalition (IRC), they are the third Israeli aid team to arrive in the region, which this week has seen days of torrential downpours that have devastated and paralyzed the city of Houston, America’s fourth largest city, and wrecked coastal towns across Texas.

Earlier this week, Israeli NGO IsraAID sent a team of seven disaster management experts, mental health experts, and engineers to Houston to help with debris removal and trauma relief, and another Israeli aid group, iAID, sent a team of nine to the city.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Yotam Polizer, co-CEO of IsraAID, whose team began work in Houston yesterday, as Harvey, now downgraded to a tropical storm, continued to wreak havoc in Louisiana. “The flooding is catastrophic and we still haven’t been to the worst-hit areas and seen the full scale of it.”

IsraAID is also responding to two other world flooding crises, with teams stationed in Nepal, on the border of India, which has been hit by calamitous flooding, and Sierra Leone.

Five members of the United Hatzalah mission to Texas, at Ben Gurion Airport before their flight. Photo by United Hatzalah

The United Hatzalah team of volunteers, which includes psychiatrists, therapists, and a psychologist from the Israel Defense Forces, aims to provide mental and emotional support to survivors of the flooding.

“People need help on the ground,” said Dov Maisel, director of international operations for the IRC, vice president of United Hatzalah, and a veteran of other aid missions to Nepal in 2015 and Haiti in 2016.

“They need to be able to wrap their minds around what was lost and they need assistance figuring out how to cope and where to go from here. That is the biggest challenge currently facing all Houston residents who have suffered during Hurricane Harvey.”

Flooding in Spring, Texas, near Houston. Photo via Shutterstock

The IRC, which is primarily a search-and-rescue unit comprised of Israeli experts in disaster response, is focusing on psychological aid after learning that this is the most urgent need now in Houston.

“There are thousands of displaced people who are currently living in shelters across the area,” said Maisel, who added that the IRC will send a second search-and-rescue team if it is required later.

The head of the new IRC mission to Texas is Israeli-American Miriam Ballin, the director of Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit in Jerusalem, and a Houston native.

“I’m happy to be given the opportunity to head back to my hometown and help during this time of crisis. Our team provides the IRC with a new capability developed in Israel that no one else in the world is currently doing, and that is to provide rapid response psychological first aid and trauma support,” she said.

“We are going tonight to help all of the people of Houston. No matter what community you belong to or what your background is, from one ‘lone star state’ to another, we will be there for you,” she added.

IsraAID’s Polizer said that his team in Houston has begun helping people in areas where the flood-waters are beginning to recede. The team is working with state authorities and aid groups including those of the Jewish Federation in Houston.

“People are returning to their homes and finding them completely destroyed. It’s a heart-breaking situation. People are very emotional, so we give them both physical support, helping them clean their homes, and psychological support,” he told ISRAEL21c.

Politzer said that the Jewish community of Houston has been particularly hard hit in the floods, but that members of the community welcomed his team in and insisted on hosting them.

“We are here for the long term,” he added. “The scale is too big, and the number of people affected and houses destroyed enormous. It’s going to take quite a while.”

Floods in Nepal and Sierra Leone

Israeli NGO offers psychological support in Nepal. Photo courtesy of IsraAID

At the same time, IsraAID volunteers are also providing urgent support to communities in Sierra Leone and Nepal, both of which have also been hit by devastating floods this month.

On August 14, Sierra Leone was hit by epic flooding that triggered mudslides that left 499 dead – including 150 children – and thousands homeless. IsraAID is providing the African nation with emergency relief, psychological first aid, sanitation and hygiene solutions to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases.

“We have a very powerful team of 12 there,” said Polizer. “We are working in two communities that have been badly affected by the floods, and providing support to people living in temporary shelters.”

Also this month, Nepal and the region around the border of northern India and Bangladesh have suffered devastating floods and landslides that have affected six million people.

The surging waters have washed away thousands of homes, permanently damaged farmland and food stocks, and killed more than 120 people, with many more missing.

IsraAID, which has had a team based in Kathmandu since the earthquake in 2015, has sent two first-response missions to the Nepalese border region to bring medical, psychosocial and sanitation assistance. The latest aid team includes 20 doctors, nurses and psychologists. So far more than 1,200 people have been treated by the NGO.

If you would like to support the aid work in Texas, Nepal or Sierra Leone, please click on the links below.

Sierra Leone – https://goo.gl/Jmn2US
Nepal – https://goo.gl/gBfPVA
Texas – https://goo.gl/vUsS5y

Israel Rescue Coalition