Shakeib Mashhood pushed out the first message on WhatsApp at 3:59 p.m. on Aug. 27, just as Hurricane Harvey whirled into Houston with torrential rains, thunderstorms and tornadoes.
The director of Mashhood’s mosque would lose his home in one of the twisters. Neighbors on the other side of a placid park at the end of his cul-de-sac in Katy would be trapped in flooded houses. Rescue helicopters would descend on a grassy hill just down the street.
In two days, the National Guard would come knocking, urging Mashhood and his family to evacuate, warning that the sandbags, plastic trash bags and wooden planks he had piled by the front door would be useless against the water rushing through the streets of the Grand Lakes subdivision.
But Mashhood did not yet know that. He just wanted to make sure his friends were safe.
“How are you all doing?” the 49-year-old wrote that Sunday afternoon in a message sent to about 20 others. “Inshallah we will together help each other.”
Within hours, responses came flying in: cries for help from families surrounded by rising floodwaters; offers of shelter from others willing to host evacuees; and calls for supplies, donations and meals for those in need.
Within days, the circle widened from 20 to 50 to more than 100, from friends to acquaintances to strangers.
At homes ravaged by Harvey, Mashhood’s WhatsApp crew worked alongside volunteers from Christian churches, Hindu temples and Mormon groups, ripping out mold-infested walls, carting dank and sodden furniture to curbs, making countless Home Depot runs for dehumidifiers and fans.
It was all new to Mashhood, a manager at Accenture who immigrated from India more than 20 years ago. He had never before run a rescue operation, never rehabbed houses, never organized a network like this.
Yet, somehow it all worked. By the time the immediate crisis from Harvey was over, 17 houses had been cleaned out, 50 displaced families matched with shelters, dozens of others fed and comforted.
And Mashhood, who says he shares credit with many others, including his wife Salma Khan, Farrukh Shazad, Muhammad Waseem Anwer, Saleem Ghori and Syed Sarwar, marvels at the way hardship united the community.
Many in the WhatsApp group had never met before the storm. Now they call themselves “Harvey friends.”
Shakeib Mashhood, center, set up a WhatsApp group to help people affected by Hurricane Harvey, with friends and neighbors Muhammad Waseem Anwer, left, Farrukh Shahzad, second from left, Syed Sarwar, second from right, and Saleem Ghori, right, who joined the group chat. less