Hurricane Harvey has wreaked devastation across much of Texas, not least in Houston, home of the well-known St Thomas’ Episcopal School Pipe Band. Piping Press Editor Robert Wallace contacted his friend, the school’s headmaster Mike Cusack, to see if we could do anything to help. Mike and Band Director Lyric Todkill have given us some harrowing details. The band has lost pipes, smallpipes, drums, music and recording equipment. If any reader or business can help this band, known to many in Scotland through their regular appearances at the Worlds, then please do so. The contact details are at the end of Lyric’s letter.
Firstly Mike: ‘Thanks Rob. It’s been devastating here In Houston. So many people lost their homes and belongings. I don’t even know the number. People are still flooded because the US Army Corps of Engineers had to release water from two basins that hold overflow leading to one of our main bayous (small natural rivers that run through the city) and by doing that they are keeping hundreds of homes underwater until at least the 15th of September, otherwise it would be tens of thousands of destroyed homes.
‘One one of the homes underwater is the house I grew up in. Many memories of great times when Jimmy McIntosh and others stayed there relaxing into the wee hours of the morning. The school took a major hit. Seventy per cent of the campus buildings were completely destroyed. We’re having to house over three-quarters of our students in temporary buildings in the parking lot. It will be about a month before they are ready.
‘The band room was destroyed. I don’t know the final count but we lost drums and pipes, not to mention our teaching and practice facilities. You can get a better idea of it all by going to www.stesflood.org.’
Lyric: ‘Thank you for agreeing to share this story with the Piping Press community. It has been an unprecedented week: something none of us ever expected. My guess is that you’ve got some info on the storm and hopefully the images I have sent you will fill in the gaps a bit as to the extent of the catastrophe from the perspective of the Saint Thomas’ Episcopal [STE] Church and School, and in particular, the pipe band programme here.
‘Our hearts and prayers go out to all affected Houstonians, as well as the thousands of others in Texas and Louisiana, whose homes and lives have been decimated by the disaster. Many of our STE families who were untouched, and even some who lost everything, have been donating items and volunteering time to the clean-up efforts.
‘At this stage, we are in the initial recovery period. The past several days have been spent salvaging, documenting, and discarding classroom materials. Almost anything touched by floodwaters is useless. Furniture, office equipment, books, and instruments are all being discarded. Our teachers and staff have been working long-hours everyday to mitigate the losses and push towards resuming a normal school schedule. Our high school building was spared, but every other building on campus suffered major damage during the storm.
‘Sadly, the band room was one of the areas hardest hit. On Friday before the storm, we moved drums, pipes, and many valuable items to higher ground. We’ve weathered hurricanes before. Allison in 1995, Rita in 2005, and Ike in 2008. I experienced the last two first hand. Both storms were stronger when they came ashore, but neither dumped nearly as much precipitation as Harvey. The band room had never really come close to flooding during those storms, so we figured moving equipment up 12 or 14 inches would be a sufficient cushion. Judging by the water line in the piping room, water was somewhere around two feet deep. I know some areas of campus, like the church, had around a metre of water.
‘We are still taking stock of what has been lost, but so far we’ve thrown away around ten sets of Highland pipes, several drums, half a dozen sets of small pipes, many music books, numerous other concert instruments, and thousands of dollars worth of recording equipment. Almost 30 juvenile band uniforms, as well as a dozen alumni uniforms have also been destroyed. There were instruments and supplies lost in homes as well, but we don’t have an accurate count on these items. In these cases, bagpipes are the least of their concerns.
‘It has been a tragic but inspiring week. We have seen our community work in ways we never imagined. We’ve also had an overwhelming show of support from pipers and drummers everywhere wondering how they can assist us. If any PP reader would like to make a monetary donation, please visit the Saint Thomas’ Flood Relief Fund webpage. Go to ste.church/flood and following the instructions to make your contribution. All proceeds go to rebuilding the church and school. The band is also taking in-kind donations of instruments and supplies. Please contact Vernon King, email@example.com, or Lyric Todkill, Todkill.firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about what is needed.’