Buckner International-affiliated staff, children, families and senior adults served in the Beaumont, Texas, area have evacuated following a mandatory order issued by Jefferson County officials Aug. 24. The order affects more than 250,000 residents across most of Southeast Texas in anticipation of Hurricane Laura making landfall.
County Judge Jeff Branick issued the mandatory evacuation order late Monday night. Buckner officials say the order confirmed the emergency preparations and plans that were already well underway by Buckner staff at Buckner Children and Family Services and Calder Woods senior living community.
Buckner President and CEO Albert Reyes said evacuating people during the coronavirus pandemic posed additional hurdles, “but our team was well prepared from past hurricanes and the work we have done the past six months mitigating risks from the pandemic. I’m proud of our teams’ response and would ask for prayers this week for Buckner and for everyone affected by these storms.”
Buckner staff started monitoring the storms a week ago when Tropical Storm 13 (Laura) and 14 (Marco) caused meteorologists to predict the possibility of two hurricanes simultaneously in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in recorded history.
While Marco eventually weakened, Laura continued to build momentum and is predicted to be at least a Category 2 hurricane by the time it makes landfall around the Texas-Louisiana border.
Early today, a caravan of cars and vans containing 76 mask-wearing staff, children and families from Buckner Children and Family Services left Beaumont headed west to the safety of Camp Buckner near Burnet, Texas. The group included 18 Buckner employees and their families, along with 17 children from the assessment center and foster families.
Housekeeper Maria Landeros readies one of several health care rooms at Ventana by Buckner® in preparation for evacuees from Buckner Calder Woods in Beaumont, while Ventana Assistant Director of Nursing Dwanda Jackson-Bey checks a medicine cabinet. Ventana expects to receive 49 evacuees from expected flooding and winds from Hurricane Laura.
“The children in the care of Buckner are already processing through many issues that impacted them earlier in life. When you compound that trauma with additional large-scale crises like a hurricane and global pandemic, a greater uncertainty emerges as their worlds keep changing,” said Henry Jackson, senior vice president of Buckner Children and Family Services.
Camp Buckner employs a licensed counselor, who will work with the displaced children and staff to help alleviate the additional stress and fear from the storm and travel.
“Our amazing staff in Beaumont and at Camp Buckner are certainly rising to the challenge to provide a calm and caring response while providing for the children’s physical, emotional and psychological needs,” Jackson said. “I am extremely proud of our Children and Family Services professionals who continuously provide a sense of normalcy for vulnerable children and let them know they do not have to carry the extra burden themselves.”
At the same time, Calder Woods associates adorned in full PPE worked all morning to safely assist 68 health care residents as they boarded an assortment of ambulances and charter buses bound for Parkway Place in Houston, Buckner Villas in Austin and Ventana by Buckner in Dallas. At least 25 associates volunteered are evacuating to provide care for the residents.
“The team across all of Buckner Retirement Services continues to stand firm against the many challenges we have faced this year,” said Charlie Wilson, senior vice president of Buckner Retirement Services. “In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now evacuating Calder Woods in Beaumont to three of our sister campuses, where they will be protected and cared for by our associates. These dedicated associates are true heroes, resilient in their dedication to serving seniors.”
In addition to the impact of Laura on Buckner’s work in Texas, staff affiliated with Buckner Dominicana in the Dominican Republic report they are assessing the storm’s damage on the island, where 12 people were reported killed. According to Dexton Shores, senior executive director who oversees Buckner’s international ministries, most of the storm damage hit the island opposite of where Buckner has operations.
This is not the first time BCFS and BRS staff and clients have been forced to evacuate the Beaumont campuses, Reyes said. Previous evacuations occurred in 2008 due to Hurricane Ike and 2005 due to Hurricane Rita. BCFS also evacuated in 2017 due to Hurricane Harvey.
“At the beginning of the year, we were making plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our work in Southeast Texas, but 2020 had other plans,” Reyes said. “In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic and now the hurricane evacuation are symbolic of the flexibility and resilience of our amazing teams and how they continue to care for vulnerable children, families and senior regardless of the extenuating circumstances.”
“In addition to the strength of our staff, it is the generosity of our donors that will help us weather this literal storm. Thank you to all who have offered gifts to help us with our emergency preparations and to all those who will answer the call for the continued need for support.”