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HOUSTON, Texas – With tens of thousands of Texans displaced by flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requested citizen volunteers throughout the nation to help with recovery efforts. Somers resident Ricky Mancini and Yorktown resident Michael Ottomanelli were quick to answer the call.
On Tuesday, Aug. 29, Mancini and Ottomanelli arrived in Texas just outside of San Antonio. They were embedded with the Army National Guard, a K-9 search and rescue team, and U.S. Marine units to help with recovery efforts.
“We came down here on our own dime in an effort to help as many people and animals as we could,” Mancini wrote on Facebook. “We have been on search boats with dogs, been into neighborhoods that were covered in 10 feet of water, jumped onto rooftops, aided in asset procurement for survivors, and had the pleasure of meeting some of the kindest and most welcoming families in the heart of some of the worst destruction ever seen in this country.”
Seeing the flooding on news reports did not do justice “to the enormity of the devastation,” Mancini said. Driving three hours from one destination to the next, he would often see nothing but homes and cars destroyed, thousands of stranded livestock, and people helping people.
Mancini said he was particularly struck by a family who all lived in separate houses on the same road: mom, dad, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, kids and grandkids. The three generations of family members “lost everything” except the clothes on their backs, Mancini said.
Mancini said he plans to keep close contact with the family and raise all the funds all he can to help them get back on their feet. A collection drive has been started at paypal.me/collectfunds.
“This isn’t going to an organization that takes out operating costs, or distributes to centers,” Mancini said. “This money will be going directly into the hands of a family who has lost both their homes, and the legacy that they’ve built over the course of three generations.”
Mancini said the money will allow the family to purchase items many people take for granted: clothing, food, and water.
“They have a long road ahead of them, and will never again return to the normalcy they’ve known,” he said.
The two men returned home Sunday, Sept. 3. Mancini called his Texas visit “one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had.”
“The people of the greater Houston area were some of the kindest and thankful people I’ve ever encountered,” he wrote on Instagram. “I will take with me everything that these people taught me for the rest of my life. Stay strong, Houstonians. We’re all with you.”