Friends are rallying to help the family of a local Cummins employee whose suburban Houston home was inundated with floodwater and sewage in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Money is being raised through a gofundme account to help Chris Pemberton, a Cummins global cybersecurity lead in Columbus, his wife, Jen, and their two children, Leah, 21, and Gabe, 11.

The Pembertons had 27 inches of sewage-laced floodwater filling the first floor of their 3,000-square-foot home after a deluge of rain turned their Friendswood, Texas, neighborhood into a lake within two days of the hurricane’s Aug. 25 landfall.

Chris Pemberton, who grew up in Columbus and is a Columbus East graduate, lives in Greenwood for his work obligations and commutes about 1,000 miles back to be with his family every month at their home southeast of downtown Houston.

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He is the son of Ora Pemberton, former band director at Columbus East High School, and the late Val Pemberton, who taught piano in Columbus. The family’s friends network is extensive in Friendswood and Columbus, he said.

What’s ahead

“We’re doing OK,” Pemberton said Friday as he made preparations to travel to Texas next week to be with his wife and children, who were rescued by airboat from the second floor of their home Sunday night.

“We’re getting through. We’ve got a pretty rough road to go,” he said.

His family is staying with friends in their neighborhood whose home was not impacted by the flood, and the family has received a voucher for a 30-day hotel stay and $500.

But it is unlikely that will be enough to see the family through gutting the first floor of the home down to the studs, letting it dry out, and then rebuilding the entire first floor and replacing the contents, he said.

Even though the family has insurance, Pemberton knows the road ahead is uncertain. The home, valued at about $300,000, sustained $40,000 to $50,000 in damage, he said.

Everything that came in contact with the sewage-tainted floodwater needs to be thrown out, and the entire first floor will need to be gutted and rebuilt.

“We don’t have a refrigerator, we don’t have a washer and dryer — no bed, nothing to sit on,” he said.

The family also lost two vehicles, both parked on the high part of the driveway that Chris Pemberton said turned out not to be high enough. However, he said the vehicles would have been flooded out even if parked in the family’s garage.

Helping a friend

Tammy Shepherd, a former Columbus resident who now lives in Indianapolis, used to take piano lessons from Chris Pemberton’s mother and learned about the family’s flooded home and rescue through social media.

While Shepherd studied piano, Pemberton was studying percussion, and the two reconnected on social media.

Shepherd started a gofundme page Thursday, hoping to raise $15,000 to help the Pembertons find temporary living quarters in Houston while their home is being repaired.

“This is going to be a long, drawn-out process,” she said of the thousands of claims that will be filed over hurricane damage.

The Pemberton family was initially not too concerned about the tropical storm in the gulf as Chris and Jen Pemberton had been off on a cruise celebrating their 25th anniversary.

Chris Pemberton said the couple were happy and content on their return, but news reports began circulating about a hurricane forming in the gulf as he returned to work in Columbus.

Worse than thought

“We went from heaven to hell,” he said. “It’s not that we weren’t paying attention. Things were going so great, school was starting for my son … and then it was, ‘What’s this out in the gulf?’ ”

The family keeps a close eye on warnings, and Jen Pemberton kept in communication with her husband, saying public officials had not ordered an evacuation but that “hurricane hoarding” had begun. She, too, went to the store to purchase supplies and the couple thought the storm might be bad, but did not envision it being catastrophic.

“We thought, ‘OK, this will hit Corpus Christie, we’ll just get a ton of rain, we should be all right,'” he said.

Instead, Hurricane Harvey “dropped an ocean on us in an hour and never stopped.”

As the storm began circling over Houston, dumping 50 inches of rain or more, he kept in communication with the family and began posting social media updates about how they were doing as the storm continued.

The family is close with many of the Friendswood families, and Chris Pemberton said he knew other families would be watching out for Jen and the kids as the storm progressed.

The water was up in the yard by Saturday night and completely surrounded the home by Sunday morning, coming in to the neighborhood from a half-mile-long retention area behind the houses in their neighborhood, which began turning into a lake.

As it kept raining Sunday, Leah called her father in Columbus and said, “Daddy, I’m scared,” Chris Pemberton said. “The water is coming up, and the entire house is surrounded,” she said.

Then the water began coming into the house through the foundation and walls, he was told.

Jen Pemberton and the kids grabbed as much as they could and moved it to the second floor. They did not call 911 because, as a family that lives near the Gulf of Mexico, they know that those with two-story homes can go upstairs and avoid low-level flooding, Chris Pemberton said.

They invited their next-door neighbors, who have a one-story home, to move to their second floor, too, and prepared to wait out the flooding.

“The idea was, ‘We’ve got food, power, the second floor. We’re going to be cool about this. We don’t need to call 911,” Pemberton said.

But rescue was coming, whether the family wanted to leave the home or not.

Firefighters and the American Red Cross went door to door in Friendswood, telling families that two more feet of rain was expected and this was their only chance to evacuate. They were told to get their stuff and leave, or they would face arrest.

Jen and the kids were carried out of the house by firefighters to avoid coming into contact with the contaminated water, which by then had reached 27 inches and had covered the entire first floor of the house and their cars.

They were taken by air boat to a flat-bed truck, where a menagerie of adults, kids and pets rode through the rain only to be stopped when the church that was to take them in reported it was full, Pemberton said.

“They then said they would break into an abandoned shop and let them stay there, and come back and check on them,” he said. “My wife called in hysterics at that point.”

But then the church relented, taking everyone into the shelter, he said. From there, Jen and the kids were picked up by a family friend in Friendswood whose home wasn’t damaged and the family is staying there for the time being.

Heading to Texas

Cummins is also putting together an effort to aid the family, helping load up a truck for Pemberton to take back to Texas next week when he will reunite with his family for the first time since the flood.

And while the family has been through a great deal of stress and uncertainty, Chris Pemberton said he is grateful for all the support from the Columbus community and those who have gone out of their way to make sure he and his family are safe.

By Friday, the water had receded out of the Pemberton house, but the daunting task of cleanup and replacing floors, walls and furnishings is just beginning.

“We’re just trying to put the walls back up,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to need the help.”

How to help

To help the Chris Pemberton family, vist gofundme at this link:

Helping Hurricane Harvey victims

Charities are stepping up donation requests in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which has devastated south Texas and on Wednesday hit southwestern Louisiana.

While the urge to donate clothes and other supplies is natural, money is the quickest, most effective contribution most people can make during times of disaster, charities and philanthropy experts say.

Give to established relief agencies

GuideStar’s website ( has a database that lets you vet charities. You can find information on a charity’s expenses, assets and revenue, as well as its programs.

Thinking about texting to give?

If you are thinking about texting your donation, charities have to wait for the phone companies to release the money.

The quickest way to give is to go to the charity’s website and donate directly, using a credit or debit card. That said, relief agencies will need money beyond the first few days or even weeks, so if the ease of text donations appeals to you, tap away. To donate $10 to the Red Cross via text, send a text message saying “REDCROSS” to the number 90999.

Apple users in the U.S. can also donate to the American Red Cross through the company’s iTunes and app stores. Amounts range from $5 to $200.


GoFundMe has a special page for Hurricane Harvey pleas for charities, individuals and families. GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding site for charities, is trying to raise $2 million for local relief and recovery efforts.

Remember that donations are tax-deductible only if they go to a registered non-profit or charity. Otherwise, they are generally considered gifts.

Consider special needs

The Texas Diaper Bank , for example, says diapers are not provided by disaster relief agencies. Again, these charities need money — not boxes of diapers.

Save The Children is setting up “child-friendly spaces” inside shelters to give kids a safe area to play and get support from trained experts and “get a sense of normalcy” during disasters. The organization is also distributing infant and toddler supplies.

Portlight Strategies helps people with disabilities, older adults and their families recover after disasters.

To help animals, check the San Antonio Humane Society, which has set up an emergency fund for pets and strays, or the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And the Houston Humane Society needs money, too.

— By The Associated Press

Local relief efforts

Clay Township donation drive

Shane Chandler, a member of the Clay Township Volunteer Fire Department, has organized a donation drive that is connected with the nonprofit Houston Food Bank.

People can drop off donations from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Clay Township Volunteer Fire Department, 9922 E. 25th St., Columbus.

Chandler said donations of bottled water, hygiene products, non-perishable food, baby supplies and cash donations are sought. Baby supplies includes diapers, wipes, bottles, formula, car seats and play pens, he said. The cash donations are to cover the cost of the gas needed to drive vans — and possibly a moving truck — to Houston.

For more information, people may contact Chandler by calling 812-374-7493.

Routing supplies through Catholic Diocese

Former Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher is working with the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont in Texas to bring donations of supplies. The diocese will distribute donations to their parishes, which will in turn distribute supplies to people in need, Fisher said.

Fisher said he has two donation points secured — St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, 1306 27th St. in Columbus, and Clifford Volunteer Fire Department, 7850 N. Depot St. — but needs help in securing one or two moving vans or semis, and drivers to make the donation effort possible.

Donations would include nonperishable food, paper supplies and cleaning supplies, Fisher said.

Donation dates and times will be determined after Fisher gets trucks and drivers secured, he said.

Anyone who wants to talk to Fisher about assisting with trucks or driving can call him at 812-343-2139.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at or (812) 379-5631.