2017-09-07 / Front Page

Houston family starting over in Gaines Twp. after Harvey

BY LANIA ROCHA
810-452-2652 • lrocha@mihomepaper.com


Ola McLaurin and Tim Williams fled the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey with their children Gabriella McLaurin and Tim Williams Jr. They are staying with family in Gaines Township, and they plan to make Michigan their home. 
Photo by Lania Rocha Ola McLaurin and Tim Williams fled the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey with their children Gabriella McLaurin and Tim Williams Jr. They are staying with family in Gaines Township, and they plan to make Michigan their home. Photo by Lania Rocha SWARTZ CREEK – In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Ola McLaurin and Tim Williams fled their home in Houston with their two children and only the possessions they could salvage from the floodwaters and load into their cars.

After a 20-hour drive, they arrived – exhausted and broke, but with enormous optimism — at McLaurin’s parents’ home in Gaines Township.

And now, a local benevolent organization is helping the family as they rebuild their lives from the ground up.

“This is my first time in Michigan,” said Williams, who’s looking forward to experiencing snow for the first time in his life. “We feel great. We feel like we can start over. It looks like there are some opportunities here.”

When Lennon residents Keith and Bonnie O’Neal heard about the family’s situation, they mobilized their team from the Good Samaritan Network.

“Ola’s mother contacted us via our website while they were on the way up here,” said Keith O’Neal. “We have a very large group of volunteers who we’ve activated and there are people waiting in line to help.”

Williams admits he underestimated the gravity of the situation as Harvey approached the Texas coast.

“I’m from Florida, so I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes,” he said.

The couple decided to ride out the storm, and they loaded 6-year-old Gabriella McLaurin and 3-month-old Tim Williams Jr. into their cars and headed for Williams’ parents’ home on higher ground.

“We thought that was the responsible thing to do,” said McLaurin. “The first day, the hurricane hit. The next day was worse because of the flooding.”

Williams said he and his father “hopped into survivor mode and tried to stay calm for the sake of the family,” but in the aftermath, seeing the devastation was tough.

“I panicked,” said McLaurin, who found comfort in the sounds of rescue boats in the distance.

As the waters began to recede, the couple ventured out. The experience was nothing short of surreal.

The store shelves were nearly bare, the line to get into Walmart was three blocks long, power was out all around them, and the freeways were under water.

“The people we spoke with at the fire department, none of them were from Houston,” McLaurin said. “They had all come in from somewhere else. We saw a lot of people come from different places just to help. We could see up the street, people were bringing boats and taking people out in boats. They were dropping people off by the truckload.”

Williams said it was heartwarming to see so many people helping.

The couple slowly made their way to their apartment. They walked through water that was, at times, chest high.

“That was scary, because we didn’t know what was in the water,” McLaurin said.

Once inside, they found warped floorboards and mold. And to make matters worse, the landlord greeted them with a reminder that their rent still was due on the 15th.

“We had $400 and we needed diapers and food,” McLaurin said.

Out of options, the couple decided to head to Michigan.

“The ultimate decision to leave was pretty tough,” said Williams. “Leaving my parents was the hardest part. But they understand; I have to do what I have to do. Whatever happens, it’s a new beginning. You have to stay positive.”

“The hurricane scared me,” said McLaurin. “I wouldn’t want to put my child back in the same situation.

“We’re going to take it one day at a time and do the best we can. We’ve got each other’s backs.”

O’Neal is working on finding Williams a job in his previous field of tech support.

McLaurin was two weeks away from finishing her certified nurse aide program. O’Neal already has a job opportunity lined up for her, and he will help her finish up her CNA training.

Gabby will enter the 1st grade in the Swartz Creek Community Schools.

“We’ll do our best to get them going forward and get them some income,” said O’Neal. “Whatever it takes, we’ll ride it all the way out.”

Anyone wishing to assist the family may do so at gsncares.com. Donations may be dropped off at Swartz Creek Academy. There is also a phone number on the website that people may call for additional information.

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