Third Is­raeli Aid Group Rushes to Help Be­lea­guered Texas

The Is­rael Res­cue Coali­tion sends a psy­cho­log­i­cal first- aid team to help the stricken state, while Is­raAID also re­sponds to flood­ing in Asia

The Jewish Voice - - ISRAEL - By: Nicky Black­burn

Elite mem­bers of United Hatza­lah’s Psy­chotrauma and Cri­sis Re­sponse Unit will be ar­riv­ing in flood-stricken Texas this afternoon to help lo­cals cope with the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, Amer­ica’s fiercest storm on record.

Sent by the Is­rael Res­cue Coali­tion (IRC), they are the third Is­raeli aid team to ar­rive in the re­gion, which this week has seen days of tor­ren­tial down­pours that have dev­as­tated and par­a­lyzed the city of Hous­ton, Amer­ica’s fourth largest city, and wrecked coastal towns across Texas.

Ear­lier this week, Is­raeli NGO Is­raAID sent a team of seven dis­as­ter man­age­ment ex­perts, men­tal health ex­perts, and en­gi­neers to Hous­ton to help with de­bris re­moval and trauma re­lief, and an­other Is­raeli aid group, iAID, sent a team of nine to the city.

“It’s over­whelm­ing,” said Yo­tam Polizer, co-CEO of Is­raAID, whose team be­gan work in Hous­ton yes­ter­day, as Har­vey, now down­graded to a trop­i­cal storm, con­tin­ued to wreak havoc in Louisiana. “The flood­ing is cat­a­strophic and we still haven’t been to the worst-hit ar­eas and seen the full scale of it.”

Is­raAID is also re­spond­ing to two other world flood­ing crises, with teams sta­tioned in Nepal, on the bor­der of In­dia, which has been hit by calami­tous flood­ing, and Sierra Leone.

The United Hatza­lah team of vol­un­teers, which in­cludes psy­chi­a­trists, ther­a­pists, and a psy­chol­o­gist from the Is­rael De­fense Forces, aims to pro­vide men­tal and emo­tional sup­port to sur­vivors of the flood­ing.

“Peo­ple need help on the ground,” said Dov Maisel, di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional oper­a­tions for the IRC, vice pres­i­dent of United Hatza­lah, and a vet­eran of other aid mis­sions to Nepal in 2015 and Haiti in 2016.

“They need to be able to wrap their minds around what was lost and they need as­sis­tance fig­ur­ing out how to cope and where to go from here. That is the big­gest chal­lenge cur­rently fac­ing all Hous­ton res­i­dents who have suf­fered dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.”

The IRC, which is pri­mar­ily a search-and-res­cue unit com­prised of Is­raeli ex­perts in dis­as­ter re­sponse, is fo­cus­ing on psy­cho­log­i­cal aid af­ter learn­ing that this is the most ur­gent need now in Hous­ton.

“There are thou­sands of dis­placed peo­ple who are cur­rently liv­ing in shel­ters across the area,” said Maisel, who added that the IRC will send a sec­ond search-and-res­cue team if it is re­quired later.

The head of the new IRC mis­sion to Texas is Is­raeli-Amer­i­can Miriam Ballin, the di­rec­tor of Hatza­lah’s Psy­chotrauma and Cri­sis Re­sponse Unit in Jerusalem, and a Hous­ton na­tive.

“I’m happy to be given the op­por­tu­nity to head back to my home­town and help dur­ing this time of cri­sis. Our team pro­vides the IRC with a new ca­pa­bil­ity de­vel­oped in Is­rael that no one else in the world is cur­rently do­ing, and that is to pro­vide rapid re­sponse psy­cho­log­i­cal first aid and trauma sup­port,” she said.

“We are go­ing tonight to help all of the peo­ple of Hous­ton. No mat­ter what com­mu­nity you be­long to or what your back­ground is, from one ‘lone star state’ to an­other, we will be there for you,” she added.

Is­raAID’s Polizer said that his team in Hous­ton has be­gun help­ing peo­ple in ar­eas where the flood-waters are be­gin­ning to re­cede. The team is work­ing with state au­thor­i­ties and aid groups in­clud­ing those of the Jewish Fed­er­a­tion in Hous­ton.

“Peo­ple are re­turn­ing to their homes and find­ing them com­pletely de­stroyed. It’s a heart-break­ing sit­u­a­tion. Peo­ple are very emo­tional, so we give them both phys­i­cal sup­port, help­ing them clean their homes, and psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port,” he told ISRAEL21c.

Politzer said that the Jewish com­mu­nity of Hous­ton has been par­tic­u­larly hard hit in the floods, but that mem­bers of the com­mu­nity wel­comed his team in and in­sisted on host­ing them.

“We are here for the long term,” he added. “The scale is too big, and the num­ber of peo­ple af­fected and houses de­stroyed enor­mous. It’s go­ing to take quite a while.”

Floods In Nepal And Sierra Leone

At the same time, Is­raAID vol­un­teers are also pro­vid­ing ur­gent sup­port to com­mu­ni­ties in Sierra Leone and Nepal, both of which have also been hit by dev­as­tat­ing floods this month.

On Au­gust 14, Sierra Leone was hit by epic flood­ing that trig­gered mud­slides that left 499 dead – in­clud­ing 150 chil­dren – and thou­sands home­less. Is­raAID is pro­vid­ing the African na­tion with emer­gency re­lief, psy­cho­log­i­cal first aid, san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene so­lu­tions to pre­vent the spread of wa­ter­borne dis­eases.

“We have a very pow­er­ful team of 12 there,” said Polizer. “We are work­ing in two com­mu­ni­ties that have been badly af­fected by the floods, and pro­vid­ing sup­port to peo­ple liv­ing in tem­po­rary shel­ters.”

Also this month, Nepal and the re­gion around the bor­der of north­ern In­dia and Bangladesh have suf­fered dev­as­tat­ing floods and land­slides that have af­fected six mil­lion peo­ple.

The surg­ing waters have washed away thou­sands of homes, per­ma­nently dam­aged farm­land and food stocks, and killed more than 120 peo­ple, with many more miss­ing.

Is­raAID, which has had a team based in Kath­mandu since the earth­quake in 2015, has sent two first-re­sponse mis­sions to the Nepalese bor­der re­gion to bring med­i­cal, psy­choso­cial and san­i­ta­tion as­sis­tance. The lat­est aid team in­cludes 20 doc­tors, nurses and psy­chol­o­gists. So far more than 1,200 peo­ple have been treated by the NGO.

Five mem­bers of the United Hatza­lah mis­sion to Texas, at Ben Gu­rion Air­port be­fore their flight. Photo by United Hatza­lah

Is­raAID ar­rives in Texas ready to pro­vide aid in the wake of the deadly Hur­ri­cane Har­vey. Photo cour­tesy of Is­raAID

Flood­ing in Spring, Texas, near Hous­ton. Photo via Shutterstock

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