Delivering hope to Texans still rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey

In our ongoing series, A More Perfect Union, we highlight stories that demonstrate what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us.

Large areas of Texas are still trying to recover about four months after Hurricane Harvey. More than 19 trillion gallons of rainwater fell, and nearly 80,000 homes had at least 18 inches of floodwater. Twenty-three thousand of those properties saw more than five feet.

About 100 miles northeast of Houston, the city of Vidor suffered tremendous damage, reports CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca. More than 3,000 homes there needed repairs. Months after the hurricane, many residents were living in tents or sleeping in their cars without the necessary materials or know-how to rebuild.

Ladell and John Harris thought their house would be safe built on 12-foot stilts by a nearby bayou, but when Hurricane Harvey made landfall, their home was swallowed by the floodwaters. Forty-two years of memories – gone.
 
"We don't have a door left in the house. It washed windows out. It just was something you can't explain to people," Ladell said. 

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 Ladell and John Harris 

CBS News


 
The storm left the Harrises without a home. For the last six weeks, they've lived in a FEMA trailer. They briefly lived with family, but returned to Vidor when John, 84, needed treatment for his lung cancer. He had started to lose faith.
 
"He had lost hope and he was just real distressed because we had tried so hard to get help and it was just probably an hour before that I told him, 'We have to wait on God' … these people drove up in our yard," Ladell said.

They were right on cue.
 
The answer to their prayers? A local pastor who practices what he preaches.  

Pastor Skipper Sauls saw that many of his church members were homeless, living in RVs and tents.
 
"How do you let it not overwhelm you?" Villafranca asked.
 
"You can't because those people need us to stay strong. That's the truth," Sauls said, overcome with emotion. "Is it hard? You bet. But that man needs to know that somebody is gonna fight for him."
 
He recruited an army of volunteers from HEART, a Minnesota-based organization led by Tony Caterina that travels around the country rebuilding communities hit hard by natural disasters.
 
"We'll bring in supplies, we'll bring in teams. We'll help them rebuild their community. It's all about bringing hope to people who quite honestly are hopeless," Caterina said.
 
"We're just so thankful and so appreciative of you people and for the angels God sent me," Ladell told the volunteers.
 
For Sauls and Caterina, their mission is not just to help the Harrises, but to be there for the people of Vidor for the long haul.
 
"This is what we run into everywhere we go is, the first two months there's a whole bunch of people. After that, it's just gets less and less and less and less. And we're just committed," Caterina said.
 
As for the Harrises, they may have lost their home, but the volunteers have restored their faith.
 
"John, what could you offer them for everything that they are doing?" Villafranca asked.
 
"Nothing. There's nothing but thank you, I love you. That's about it," he said.

Sauls hopes the Harrises can move back in their home by March or April. That will depend on getting the right materials and labor to help. His church is working to get 35 families back in their houses by the end of this year.