When Hans Brechbuhl, a senior at Texas A&M University and a member of the Corps of Cadets, learned about damage in East Texas and Louisiana caused by Hurricane Laura, he knew it was time to jump into action.
Gathering eight fellow cadets from the Corps’ A-Battery, the students served meals to first responders on the scene near an area that received heavy destruction. Brechbuhl, who was granted permission by the Corps to provide the assistance, said he intentionally kept the group small to promote safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were expecting the hurricane would hit Houston and didn’t, so we reached out to people out of Beaumont, and it didn’t hit there as hard,” Brechbuhl said “But those people said Lake Charles [Louisiana] was in need of hot meals. We reached out to Lake Charles, and they ended up sending us out to the city of Sulphur, which got hit so hard.”
Brechbuhl called around Bryan-College Station to acquire food donations. Slovacek’s offered the students a donation of 500 sausages. Brechbuhl’s grandparents donated tortillas and cookies, as did Brechbuhl’s church family of A&M Church of Christ, who threw in a gift of 1,200 bottles of water. The students gathered the food and drinks, hooked up the A-Battery tailgate barbecue grill to a pickup and headed out to Louisiana at sunrise on Saturday. The storm had forced Louisiana officials to close certain major thoroughfares, so following a bumpy journey over back roads, the crew finally made it to Sulphur by Saturday afternoon,
“I had never been in a hurricane or seen the destruction of one, and I would never want to experience that,” Brechbuhl said. “We saw power lines on the ground, sheet metal walls that had been ripped off, barns tipped over, all kinds of carnage.”
The students set up shop in the Sulphur City Police Department parking lot. Though they’d initially intended to give food to first responders, they offered meals to any citizen who approached them.
“It was probably — maybe 150 people — police officers and all kinds of people — coming by,” Brechbuhl said. “With what we had left, we donated part of it to a church that helps with recovering addicts. What they didn’t take, we ended up giving to a group out of Virginia who would get it to the National Guard.”
Just a few miles east of Sulphur, the people of Lake Charles are digging out of the rubble left by Laura. One Bryan-based American Red Cross volunteer has been serving that community for several days, and will continue to do so for at least another week.
“My role is as one member of a two-person team for an [emergency response vehicle, or ERV],” said Ron Hambric, a retired Texas A&M University libraries staffer and current Red Cross volunteer. “An ERV can handle a lot of functions, and one is feeding people out of it. A catering company out of Baton Rouge has been cooking the food we carry in containers, and we dish it out and hand out water.”
Several dozen ERVs are stationed near Lake Charles at the moment, with volunteers who have traveled across the United States to help, he said. Hambric and his ERV partner, a volunteer from Killeen, spend each night sleeping in an airplane hangar that’s more than a two-hour drive distance from Lake Charles. The pair continually wake up each day to refill their truck with catered food and bring it to Lake Charles. Though they are only required by the Red Cross shift assignment to stay for a two-week stint, Hambric could be asked to stay longer.
“I enjoy helping other people out,” Hambric said. “It does bring me joy.”