“The Levee Has Broken!”
THAT was the news flash that came over the radio one February evening in northern California. Heavy rains had caused rivers and dams to be filled to capacity. During a ten-day period, 14 inches (36 cm) of rain fell in the foothills and double that amount in the mountains that fed the Yuba River.
Normally, that river flows at about 4,000 cubic feet per second (113 cu m/sec). But it peaked at 100,000 cubic feet per second (2,800 cu m/sec)—25 times more than normal! The levees holding in the river became soaked.
Then, at 6:10 on a Thursday evening, a tired levee broke. A 40-foot (12 m) gap appeared, and water flooded into nearby Linda and Olivehurst. By next morning the gap had widened to 180 feet (55 m). Rescue crews noted that water came down some streets with such speed that it created a four-foot (1.2 m) wave. About 30 square miles (78 sq km) became flooded in that area alone.
The water reached roof height in some places. Through a window of one house, a sofa was seen floating near the ceiling! Thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses were affected, many suffering severe damage. About 24,000 people were forced to leave their homes.
Among the homes damaged were those of Jehovah’s Witnesses who associate with nearby congregations. It is of interest to note the steps that they took and how they and others were affected.
When the flood struck, overseers in threatened congregations immediately warned any who might be thinking of traveling in the direction of the flood. They also saw to the evacuation of flood victims, who were resettled in homes of fellow Witnesses. A list of all in the congregations was checked to make sure no one was missing.
The next morning, Friday, three traveling overseers of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the overseer of the Yuba City Assembly Hall met. They phoned Witness headquarters in New York to get guidelines and were instructed to form a relief committee.
How much help could this relief effort provide for the Witnesses and others in the community? No one knew for sure that day. But they were soon to find out.
Help Arrives Swiftly
It was thought that only by the following Wednesday could they get into the flood area to determine the needs of the Witnesses. But in some places the water subsided sufficiently, so that by working swiftly, the relief committee was able to get help in by Sunday, three days ahead of time.
Witnesses from the surrounding areas were called by phone. Immediately a crew of some 250 men and women arrived to offer their services. They met on the grounds of the Yuba City Assembly Hall. Many others would come on the following days.
By the end of that first day, 20 homes had been cleaned and repaired. Damaged Sheetrock and insulation were ripped out. Carpets were removed. The houses were cleaned from top to bottom and disinfected; so was furniture as well as other household effects. Some flood-damaged items, including sofas and refrigerators, were taken to a warehouse where they were cleaned with special equipment.
What were the key factors in getting the work to move so swiftly when relief efforts by other agencies had not even got under way? The main factor was the willingness of the Witnesses to volunteer immediately without pay, as well as their donating money and mountains of clothing, food, and other materials, such as bedding, appliances, and even some refrigerators.
Another factor was the organization at relief headquarters, where five phones and an intercom system had been installed. Men and women working there coordinated the work crews that were going from one house to the next, each crew with its specific job assignment. The many offers of help from Witnesses, and the requests for workers and materials, were also coordinated. A 16-hour workday was normal at headquarters, as it was in the homes being repaired.
To get an idea of how quickly the relief effort moved along, on that first Sunday a Witness called from 45 miles (72 km) away to ask what he could bring to help. It was mentioned that Sheetrock and insulation were needed. He immediately purchased large quantities of those materials. When asked by a store salesman why he wanted so much material, he said that it was for the flood victims. The salesperson was amazed, as flooding was barely subsiding!
Of course, such a huge volume of work done so quickly can have its problems—and humor—too. For example, in one home two painters were working in the same room. But then it was noticed that one of them was painting with a flat paint and the other with semigloss! The mistake was quickly corrected.
Many were the expressions of appreciation not only from Witnesses whose homes were repaired but also from numerous others who were not Witnesses. Note some examples of this.
While checking in one area to see who needed help the most, the Witnesses came across an elderly couple. The woman seemed on the verge of a breakdown because of the damage. She mentioned that a religious group had come but only offered to pray for them. Another group said that the couple must have sinned against God and that he was angry with them. She said that the Witnesses were the only ones to offer them the kind of help they really needed. The repair crew went to work, and the woman proudly told neighbors that they “were wonderful.” But she was not the only one made happy. The workers were, too, since as Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
Another group was sent to an elderly woman that one of the workers knew. When she found out that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, she gave them the run of the house, which had been damaged by two feet (0.6 m) of water. She had to leave for a while, but when she returned, the crew had cleaned, scraped, and taken care of everything. She was overwhelmed.
A cleaning group went to the home of a Witness but found that she did not need any more help. Just then a distraught neighbor came by and said that she was expecting help from a relief agency, but it had not yet come. The Witnesses volunteered to help, and nine of them cleaned her house from top to bottom. The woman wondered why they would do all of that for a stranger. They answered that they wanted to show neighbor love. (Matthew 22:39) The lady was so touched by this kindness that she began to cry!
In one area a neighbor commented on how the cleaning groups came in with equipment and were ready to work, whereas a church sent a person from door to door dressed as a clown. The clown handed each householder a piece of candy and invited each one to church on Sunday. The householder commented on the vast contrast.
On the first day, the many work crews, in groups, went out knowing what had to be done, working efficiently and quickly. However, very few people in the area knew where to begin. While working on one home, a crew noticed that a neighbor seemed lost in his effort to repair the damage. The Witnesses went over and asked if he could use help. He quickly replied, “Yes!” They assisted in removing the carpet, drywall, and other items. One of the group commented: “The man was aglow at the thought of such aid.”
A woman whose husband is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been away but returned to find a work crew in her home. She exclaimed: “I was shocked to find a group of Witnesses working on my home! They may know my husband, but they have never even met me. I was so surprised that they would come in and do this for me even though they never met me.”
There were many such expressions by neighbors who had been helped, in addition to the gratitude expressed by the many Witnesses whose homes were repaired by their Christian brothers and sisters. One Witness summed it up by saying: “I’m just overwhelmed. I never imagined that anyone could be so wonderful, even ones I do not personally know. I’m just overwhelmed!”
Officials were amazed too. When it was apparent that so much damage had been done by the flood, the county sent inspectors into the field to halt or delay work until the householders were notified of the various building requirements.
In this regard a worker related: “While we were working on the house of a Witness, two officials came up to me, presuming I was the householder. They handed me a list of re-habitation requirements. They informed me of the specifications that had to be met, such as the total removal of damaged drywall, insulation, subfloor, and other items. I told them that it was all done already, and just as required.”
He continues: “At this, they looked at each other and at me in disbelief. I then mentioned that I was with the relief effort of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They smiled and said: ‘Oh, we believe it now because we saw some of your people working down the street.’ But I still wanted them to verify our work, so I showed them the new floor, insulation, Sheetrock, and other things. I pointed out that the next day texturing and painting would begin, and on the weekend the new carpet would be installed. They were dumbfounded and left shaking their heads.”
A Privilege to Help
By the time the work ended, the Witnesses had removed and replaced tens of thousands of feet of Sheetrock, insulation, carpets, and padding. Hundreds of yards of wall vinyl were removed and replaced. If we include the paint, the homes and furniture cleaned and disinfected, the electrical checking and rewiring, the flooring repaired or replaced, the repair of vehicles and appliances, as well as the food, clothing, bedding, and other items provided, the amount of material is staggering. Staggering also would be the cost of all the goods and services donated had they been charged for.
Even children offered their help. One little girl, who was three-and-a-half years old, wrote on her gift to flood victims: “I love you, and I hope you will be fine soon. I went through my drawers for clothes that I know my brothers and sisters who are little like me can use.” She signed it: “Warm Christian love and affection.” A nine-year-old boy wrote: “I came with my mom to Yuba City and want to help you with my money. Jehovah be with you.” He donated $3.17 (U.S.).
Scrawled on the outside of a plain brown lunch bag were the words, “For a little brother.” The bag contained a small motorized car and a child’s book. This was the note inside: “To whom it may concern. I am sorry you went through the flood and lost all your nice things. Maybe this will cheer you up. May Jehovah be with you.” After signing it, the little boy added this P.S. “The car don’t have any working batteries, but it rolls.” While the gift was small, it showed where the heart was.
Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses—old and young—count it a privilege to help their fellowman. Throughout the world, they have acquired much experience in doing this, by their many relief efforts and by calling on people to talk to them about the Bible. (Matthew 24:14) Their experience includes the gathering, housing, and feeding of millions of people at hundreds of large conventions around the world each year. It also includes their building projects, such as quickly built Kingdom Halls erected in two days (which have amazed the building trades) and their construction of large assembly halls and huge branch office facilities in many countries.
In all of this they are gaining much valuable experience. And it will be put to good use in building a paradise on earth when Jehovah God soon removes this present calamity-ridden world and ushers in an entirely new system of things.—2 Peter 3:13.
[Picture on page 22]
Hundreds of volunteer workers cleaned up scores of homes
[Picture on page 23]
Over 400 pieces of furniture were cleaned and disinfected
[Picture on page 24]
Damaged walls were replaced and painted