The sturdy house had stood for almost 80 years on its five-foot pier and beam foundation at Pine Island Bayou. It had survived its share of coastal hurricanes without ever having been flooded. But that was before Hurricane Harvey arrived in August 2016.

Homeowners Jerry and Gerri Barnes of Lumberton, Texas realized that the bridge leading to their 43 acres of land could easily flood.  As a precaution, they packed a single suitcase of clothes and then moved a table, folding chairs, a blow-up mattress, and a laptop computer to their recently vacated rental house, about ten minutes away on higher ground.

Over the next five days, Hurricane Harvey dropped upwards of 65 inches of rain, inundating hundreds of square miles from Corpus Christi, Texas on the west to the Louisiana border on the east.  Although the old well-built house survived the initial downpour, it could not escape the deluge of water released by the local dams in an effort to save more densely populated areas.  In the first photos taken by a neighbor in his boat, only the treetops surrounding the home could be seen.  The couple feared that the currents, strong enough to have moved concrete barriers on the highways, had completely taken their beloved home off its foundation.

The home of Jerry and Gerri Barnes of Lumberton, Texas.

As the floodwaters receded a bit, another photo of the property revealed the top of the house, still standing on its foundation.  After finally re-gaining access to the property, they and their grown children spent an entire weekend mucking out the mud and debris, depositing great piles of furniture, clothes, personal belongings, and appliances around the house.  But they knew that unless they could clear the house of drenched building materials before rampant mold and mildew developed, they would lose any hope of re-building their home.

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It was during that first weekend of clean-up that three men from a Baptist work crew came by the house.  Recognizing that the Barnes’ home was a larger challenge than they could manage, they asked if they could pray that the couple would be blessed with the help they needed.

God answered that Baptist prayer by sending a score of yellow-vested “Helping Hands” volunteers from a Plano congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  They attacked the old house with a vengeance, removing rotting wood, soggy insulation, and crumbling sheetrock.  By the time they left on Sunday afternoon, the home had been stripped down to the studs, giving the Barnes a chance to rebuild their cherished home.

Fortunately, North Texas is not subject to either the kind of hurricane damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey or by the recent devastating forest fires that destroyed some 14,000 homes in California.  But disasters do occur in North Texas in the form of frigid precipitation, wind shears, floods (natural and manmade), home-destroying fires, and deadly, swirling tornadoes.  And being prepared for such a disaster is crucial to surviving them.

Preparing for catastrophe

To better equip Plano citizens for such a traumatic experience, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is sponsoring the Plano Texas Stake Preparedness Fair on Saturday, March 23, 2019 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at 2700 Roundrock Trail.  The event is free and open to the entire community.  A variety of classes, displays, and demonstrations will be available throughout the church and parking lot.  Assisting the church in this bi-annual event are the Plano Police Department, Collin County Medical Reserve Corps, American Red Cross, City of Plano Department of Emergency Management, and the Plano Fire-Rescue.

About half of the planned activities will address emergency preparedness like the situation faced by Plano residents, Steve and Diane Litherland, on December 26, 2015.  The couple had gathered at their daughter’s home with their three children, two of their spouses, and 12 grandchildren under the age of 9.  Noticing the nasty weather outside, their daughter turned on the TV just in time to catch a warning for Rowlett residents to immediately take cover.  To protect themselves, the children and most of the adults crowded into the closet beneath the stairs and into the small downstairs bathroom.  The entire family prayed fervently as glass shattered, lights disappeared, and fierce winds seemed to rock the home to its foundation. By the time they emerged from their hiding places, an F-4 tornado had inflicted extensive damage to their property and their neighborhood.  A tree had crashed through the windshield of their son’s car, and another lay on the roof of their daughter’s garage.  But their daughter’s home had at least retained its roof, unlike almost every house on the street.  One cul-de-sac over, seven homes had been completely leveled to the ground by the ferocious storm.

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Knowing how to respond during and after such events is crucial for survival.  For example, those attending the Preparedness Fair can learn how to cook when the electricity is off with solar, volcano, and rocket stoves and Dutch ovens.  Or they can see how to assemble a 72-hour emergency kit when immediate evacuation is required, plus first-aid kits and travel emergency kits like the one used by young Utah mother Brooke Rampton.  She employed hers when she was caught in her car for nine hours with three children under the age of 8 in a white-out blizzard. In her words, “After explaining to the kids that we would be stuck there for a while, I wrapped them in their emergency blankets, put an extra pair of socks on their feet, gave them each a hand-warmer to keep under their blanket and … a snack. We spent (our) time singing songs and coloring.  I always keep a Ziplock bag with some crayons, paper, and stickers … The kids mentioned to me several times how grateful they were that we had food, water, and warm blankets.”

Other booths and classes will address areas such as executing wills and estate planning, acquiring a three-month supply of food storage, and training with ham radios.  Others may want to learn the basics of gluten-free cooking, canning, dehydrating, and yogurt making.  A new display this year will feature beekeeping taught by Murphy resident Mark Miller, who has raised bees on his property for the past three years.  He will bring with him the tools needed to set up beekeeping operations along with his stories about these intelligent and productive creatures.  According to Mark, almost anyone can keep beehives on their property pursuant to local regulations.

Jan Nielsen, who has raised gardens in northern California, Chicago, and Texas, will teach the gardening class. Her extensive “field” experiences have made her an expert in soil composition, weather conditions, and plants that grow in North Texas.  She has even learned how to welcome the Texas rat and garden snakes into her garden to control the rodent population.

“As a nurse, I understand how important it is to eat fresh vegetables, but they can also be very expensive for people to buy in the store,” Jan says.  “Fortunately, almost everyone can experience the joy of working with the earth, whether in our own back yards or in a community garden.  And there is no better therapy than of growing edible produce for us and for others to enjoy.”

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No one in North Texas is immune to disasters, and it is impossible to control weather, construction issues, and the actions of others.  But having the right tools, resources, and knowledge can save lives and property, regardless of whether the inevitable tragedy comes first-hand or as an opportunity to help others.  Now is the time to prepare for that day.

Plano Texas Stake Preparedness Fair

Saturday, March 23, 2019 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
2700 Roundrock Trail

For more information about the 2019 Preparedness Fair, go to

Linda Chism

Linda Chism is a freelance writer who specializes in stories about ordinary people and their extraordinary experiences. Her articles have appeared on and in the Plano Profile and Garland Texan...