Varghese K. George
Washington: As rains taper off and flood waters recede in Houston, Texas, there is no report of any Indian American life lost, but there are serious concerns among the victims about how to pick up their lives. Almost all of them have insurance policies that do not cover floods, and the loss of property is huge, community volunteers and victims told The Hindu by phone.
The greater Houston area has a population of five million, of which around 1.5 lakh are estimated to be Indian Americans. Around 30,000 people were evacuated and the population of Indians among them would be in the high hundreds, said Anupam Ray, India’s Consul General in Houston who has coordinated with several community organisations in relief efforts.
Evacuation and rescue operations were done by government agencies, but Indian Americans moved out of government run shelters within hours of reaching there in the last two days.
“The community network has been strong and welcoming to even strangers who needed a place,” said Jitin Aggarwal, a software entrepreneur and philanthropist. Community shelters are being run in the city by several temples, Muslim associations and churches. Mr. Ray said many Indians are volunteering at the government run shelters also.
Reji V. Kurian is a volunteer at the shelter hosted by the Emmanuel Marthoma Church in Houston, who took a boat ride on Tuesday evening to the Riverstone neighbourhood to find water standing 400 meters away from his house. “At least 350 houses in the vicinity are under water. These houses are new, bought in the last two years, and some only two months old, costing 3.5 lakh dollars and up to two million for some. Typical insurance policies do not cover flood and only now people are realising that. With cars, carpets and household articles gone, this is going to be a challenge,” he said. The church hosts around 160 families, most of them Indians but a handful of Chinese Americans also.
Mr. Aggarwal said Indian families living in dry areas are taking in strangers without any hesitation. “One Indian family is hosting 10 Indian students, who had their homes flooded,” he said. The operation coordinated by the Indian consulate has evacuated nearly 200 students, and Mr. Ray said most of them are now volunteering.
Indian community’s outreach is not limited to Indians, and the crisis is also being used as an opportunity to reach out to others, Mr. Aggarwal said. Indian restaurants, doctors and paramedics are also mobilized to provide food and medicine at evacuation centres.
Mr. Aggarwal has been living in Houston for the last 15 years. He said even those who living in the city for 50 years have no recollection of anything similar.