By making contact over social media, Mormons and their non-member neighbors turned a Mormon meetinghouse into a command center for boat rescues and a shelter for stranded evacuees and even their pets. Once the Houston infrastructure became overwhelmed, and 911 lagged 3 hours behind on emergency calls, this center was called into action very quickly.
The makeshift emergency command center was set up in the Primary room at the Cypress Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tomball. Nearly 60 boaters, Mormon and non-Mormon, heeded a Facebook call to rescue stranded residents, including some in a high-rise care center near the temple. They plucked about 500 people from their flooded homes Tuesday.
Former police dispatcher Debbie Murphy took phone calls from various law enforcement agencies directing the boats to people in need. Others tracked the watercraft on a Google document. They also scoured Facebook and Instagram for posts from distressed residents.
After putting out a call for private watercraft Monday, 22 boats, three jet skis and a slew of canoes and kayaks descended on the church to go out into neighborhoods looking for people. More volunteer boaters showed up Tuesday, filling the parking lot with trucks and trailers.
A local restaurant brought in dinner Monday night, and a nearby subdivision provided breakfast.
Calls for help flowed in from police and fire departments. Stirling Pack, the former Cypress Stake president, is the regional disaster coordinator for the Houston region, which covers 22 stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and three missions. He said that the magnitude of the emergency has pushed decision-making down to the local level. All government and large aid agencies like the Red Cross are overwhelmed.
Eventually, the evacuees holed up in the Mormon meetinghouse were moved to a new, more permanent shelter. At that point, members donned yellow Mormon Helping Hands shirts to go out for clean up missions.