The first anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Ike on Sept. 14 prompted mixed emotions for David Arceneaux of Nederland. His family was forced to flee the strong Category 3 storm that hit Galveston with 110-mph winds, and from far away they watched television coverage of the devastation inflicted on countless coastal sites so familiar to them.
But the anniversary also reminded them of the hospitality they experienced in Brown County after taking cover for four days with his brother, Jeff Arceneaux and family of Early.
“It was awesome the way people treated us,” Arceneaux said by telephone last week. “We would be at a restaurant, and people would find out about our situation, and buy us our meals.”
Arceneaux said the Brownwood-Early community overall was amazingly help, but he specifically mentioned the staff of Underwood’s Cafeteria and the congregation of First Baptist Church of Brownwood. He attended services there at the invitation of a member, even though he is Catholic.
The Bulletin published a story about his family’s experiences while they were here, and after the anniversary he called the newspaper office looking for a way to extend his appreciation for the kindnesses they were shown. A year later, those memories are still vivid.
The Arceneaux family didn’t know what to expect when they returned home last year. Trees were knocked down, but their home was basically spared. Damage to their property was insignificant, David said, compared to what happened to many of those living nearby. For example, a neighbor’s carport was ripped up by Ike’s swirling winds, and its debris was blown over the top of their house across the street. A pole from the carport was wrapped around a parked truck.
One year later, the hurricane season along the Texas Gulf Coast is expected to be much less eventful, David said.
“We’ve been blessed,” he said. “They say that the Gulf’s waters are too cold this year to generate such large storms.”
Prayer played a major part in the ordeal, Arceneaux said, and their retreat from Hurricane Ike was just one bullet his family dodged. Two weeks before Ike hit, their family had come to his brother’s house as Hurricane Gustav lumbered toward Texas. They had only recently completed repairs from more severe damage his home suffered in 2005 from Hurricane Rita.
“After being evacuated three times in such a short time, we knew that praying protects us,” Arceneaux said. “Thousands of houses were damaged or destroyed. We just put it all in God’s hands.”
The Arceneaux family became familiar faces around the office of the Pecan Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross last year – not because they needed help themselves, but because they wanted to help others. They recognized that they were fortunate. They had a relative who was able, repeatedly, to provide them shelter while the storm played out. So they offered their assistance to Terri Burross at the the Red Cross office.
The Red Cross building was a clearing house for specific information about storm damage as well as supplies for evacuees. Those items included bottled water, blankets, pillows, toiletry packages and cots. Since no centralized shelter was established, volunteers were needed to load and deliver supplies to evacuees who were housed in various locations, but primarily in camps around Lake Brownwood. The Arceneaux family joined Red Cross board members and other volunteers in the task. Numerous businesses and churches also pitched in with donations of supplies and/or volunteers.
David’s nephew, Steven, who is a Boy Scout, was shown in a photograph in the Bulletin wearing his uniform. David said he doesn’t believe Stephen received the recognition he deserves for his efforts, but knows that his nephew quietly did what he did for the right reasons.
He also believes Burross deserves to be commended. He continuse to remain in contact with local officials, he said.
And while he was giving thanks, David offered a word of appreciation to his brother and his family in Early for repeatedly opening their home and interrupting their lives to accommodate relatives.
Recently, David proposed a regional prayer service to a friend in municipal government, and on Thursday, he was driving to Port Arthur to meet with mayors of numerous coastal cities to finalize details.
“We want to pray for another calm season next year,” David said. “All the mayors are on board. We hope we can do it soon.”
He would be delighted if some of the Brownwood area people he has met could attend. He will keep the Bulletin apprised of the schedule.
“You’ve got special people there,” Arceneaux said. “They were so nice to us.”
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at gene.