An army of more than 3,000 volunteers from Jefferson County moved into the neighborhoods of Hurricane Ike-stricken Bridge City Sunday during operation “Mid-County Kindness.” The volunteers, clad in commemorative red T-shirts and armed with rakes, chainsaws and even lawn mowers began helping residents clean up in the aftermath of Ike.

The generosity of Jefferson County citizens brought many Bridge City residents to tears. “I don’t know how to express how I feel right now. There are no words,” said Darla Flannigan, 54, of Bridge City. Her cane covered Lake Street yard was being cleaned by a team of Port Neches-Groves High School students that piled debris to the road.

“I’m just overcome with gratitude,” Flannigan said. Currently displaced from her home, Flannigan’s voice cracked through tears. “There’s no way I could have done this on my own.”

It is estimated that about 200 teams of 15-20 members signed up, initially from the First Baptist Church of Groves, where the event was planned by Les Hayhurst. The idea took off. Area businesses and groups of friends formed teams of their own and rushed to the aid of Bridge City residents.

For Orange County residents unaffected by the flood, it is hard to imagine the incredible amount of labor needed to rip out carpets and walls, discard ruined furniture, appliances and personal belongings; clean debris from yards and at the same time maintain jobs, family and stand in FEMA lines or meet with insurance adjusters. For most residents of Bridge City and many in Orange, the task is overwhelming physically, mentally and emotionally.

“What the volunteers have done for us has helped our citizens catch their breath and has moved us a step further in our recovery from the storm,” said Bridge City Mayor Kirk Roccaforte. “It has been a blesssing to our community.”

On Clover Street, volunteers from 5-Point Credit Union were led by bank president Eric Shaw. The crew of men and women hauled rotting refrigerators and  furniture from homes and raked yards.

Some volunteers just came in on their own. Jason Broussard, a 1999 graduate of Bridge City High School, quit a good job to come back to help his hometown. “I told my boss I needed to come help Bridge City,” said Broussard, who lives in Nederland with his wife Kristen and 3-year old daughter. “He told me they needed me at the plant. But I told them I had to go.” Broussard is still cruising the streets of Bridge City looking for places that need help with restoration.

Julia Churchwell and Margie Allen of Beaumont came on their own to join the clean-up effort. “We believe people in Bridge City would have done the same for us if we needed help instead,” Churchwell said.

Signs that read, “Help Me” in yards notified crews of residents in distress. The teams of red clad “Mid-County Kindness” volunteers fanned out into every neighborhood of the community. On Vivian Street, more PN-G students were found. Ashley Britt and Justin and Cullen Tinsley dragged branches from yards in hard hit Dugas Addition.

A crew of Lamar State College-Port Arthur nursing students pulled carpet and furniture from the home of Ed Quist on Jones Street. “I don’t know what I would have done without them,” Quist said. “They just showed up and didn’t stop until they were done.”

Ironically, Quist is a paralegal professor at LSC-PA. He was surprised to discover that the team that chose his home were students of the university’s nursing program.

“The most amazing thing was to see the Mid-County residents and businesses come over and support our town,” said Janelle Sehon, executive vice president of the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce,  “Not only were they working at resident’s homes, they also went to our local business owners that were here to help clean up and tear-out molded walls.”

The main staging area in Bridge City was at Cardinal Square Shopping Center where Market Basket, Valero, Cajun Country Cooking and many other corporate, civic and relief organizations served food and provided ice and drinks to volunteers and residents.

The Market Basket Food Center on Texas Avenue sustained heavy damage during the Hurricane Ike floods. Tina Thibodeaux, Kristi Morris and Kelsey Perry were among the volunteers of the Market Basket store dispensing food and refreshments from a mobil booth.

“The Bridge City Market Basket will be down between four to five months,” said Mike Rohrbaugh a supervisor of the stores. “We’re going to totally remodel and enlarge the store. The new store is really going to be nice when we re-open here,” he said.

By the end of the day the “Mid-County Madness” volunteers had improved what still remains an area of heart-breaking devastation. But residents aren’t waiting on the government for a helping hand. Instead, help came from volunteers willing to put in hard labor to help Bridge City get back on its feet.