Aspen-area relief efforts are underway to get supplies, help to Houston | AspenTimes.com

Aspen-area relief efforts are underway to get supplies, help to Houston

Whether it's a corporate jet, boats or a tractor-trailer, some Aspen-area residents are finding ways to provide relief to residents in Houston, which is reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

On Wednesday morning, John Maas, the founder and CEO of Mountain Primal Meat Co. in Emma, was gearing up for a road trip to south Texas. Just a day earlier, Maas and one of his co-workers, a former Marine, made the round-trip to the Cabela's headquarters in Sidney, Nebraska, where they retrieved four flat-bottom duck boats and four outboard motors.

While Maas and his worker were running that major errand, donations of nonperishable food items and bottled water were being collected at the Emma ranch.

Maas and three others left around 10 a.m. Wednesday to haul the boats down to Houston. He said his motivation comes from his appreciation for the Lone Star State and its residents who are suffering.

"More than anything, we like the state of Texas," he said. "And we don't feel like our safety is going to be in any kind of jeopardy."

Maas, who is originally from Minnesota, said he and his crew all have experience running boats.

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"And it would be easy for us to lend a hand," he said, noting their plans are to get to work as soon as they arrive at their destination, taking any stranded residents they can to safety.

Maas and his crew's efforts are in line with those of the Cajun Navy, the band of boat-ready volunteers from south Louisiana who rescued stranded victims during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as well as last year's disastrous floods in the Pelican State. Members of the Cajun Navy also have arrived in Houston, America's fourth-largest city, to help.

"We'll stay down there as long as we need to," said Maas, who has a cousin who lives in Houston, as well as other friends. "We kind of feel with our experience with who we are and the resources we have, if we're not the ones to put something together, who the hell else is going to?"

For Aspen resident Lisa Wagner, it has been tough to sit by idly as the reports routinely come in about the catastrophic flooding and suffering in the city where she attended high school and nursing school, and where her parents live and have watched over her 10-year-old daughter this summer.

Her daughter was set to return to Aspen to start the fifth grade this week, but Harvey's landfall derailed those plans. Wagner said she hopes to fly down to Houston within the next two weeks to get her daughter, if not earlier as a volunteer for Red Cross, with which she has been in contact on how to help.

Starting at 8:30 a.m. today, Wagner will be stationed at the Aspen Fire Department, 420 E. Hopkins Ave., to collect diapers, toiletries, clothing and blankets.

"If you don't know Houston, you don't understand how much water that is," she said of the flooding. "I don't think anybody could grasp how large this was going to be."

Harvey has made landfall three times — first Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane in between Port Aransas and Port O'Connor in Texas, then early Saturday morning as a Category 3 storm in Copano Bay, Texas, and Wednesday as a tropical depression in Louisiana.

By Wednesday afternoon, the storm's death toll was up to 37, The Washington Post reported. And NBC News, citing Accuweather, reported it will have a $190 billion economic impact, making it one of the costliest storms in U.S. history.

Wagner said she has been in contact with her nurse friends, some of whom told her they have been working straight shifts with little to no rest.

"I wish I was there to help this community," she said, "so the best I could do is get supplies."

Wagner has been in touch with the folks at Mountain Primal Meat, who will be hauling what she gathers, as well as the donations the company has acquired, to Denver on Friday. From there, the items will be transferred to a larger truck bound for Houston.

Red Cross also connected Wagner to George Harpole, a private pilot for a Houston businessman who owns a home in Aspen.

Harpole flew that well-heeled Houstonian, whose identity Harpole asked not be made public, and his family to Aspen on Friday before Harvey hit land. Harpole also brought along his 7-year-old son. The two have been staying in Glenwood Springs, he said. All told, 14 people, which includes Harpole, are in the Houston group that flew to Aspen, he said.

On Wednesday, Harpole was making plans to fly the family back to Houston on Thursday in a Embraer Legacy 600 jet, which could only land there as a one-way flight that contains relief-aid items, he said.

"Everybody is doing OK," he said of his friends and family who stayed behind. "Everybody had water up to their doors, but thank God it has receded. We've lost power and everybody's roofs are leaking, but we're pretty fortunate. The (jet) owner's in-laws, they got flooded out completely."

David Segal, the former rabbi of the Aspen Jewish Congregation who returned to his hometown of Houston in June with his wife and two children, said they were living without power Wednesday. But that was a small price to pay in contrast with what others have endured, he said. Segal and his family are temporarily living with his mother and father until they get their own home.

A monthly columnist for The Aspen Times, Segal said he also is working on a piece for the Houston Chronicle that focuses on the faith community's efforts to help victims and evacuees.

"I've seen churches trying to help people as shelters, as well as mosques and synagogues," he said. "Houses of worship, all faiths, are opening as shelters if they can. Some are even opening their kitchens for meals to evacuees."

During his reporting, Segal said he spoke to one pastor whose church is home to a handful of Katrina survivors. Thousands of New Orleans-area residents relocated to Houston after Katrina.

"She said she's trying to listen to their wisdom, while recognizing that we are still in rescue mode," he said, "and recovery will come."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

HELPING HOUSTON

There will be a dropoff set up Thursday in Aspen for those who want to help send supplies.

Where: Aspen Fire Department (420 E. Hopkins Ave.)

When: starting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday

Items needed: Diapers, toiletries, clothing and blankets