Local community leader planned trip to Texas just prior to Hurricane Harvey

09/10/2017 5:47 AM |

A week before Hurricane Harvey slammed southeastern Texas, Susan Wilk and her husband, Thomas, began preparations for what was to be the first of two trips this year to Port Aransas, Texas. There were JetBlue flights they needed to check and locations to plan around the trip.

Located on a barrier island near Corpus Christi on the Gulf of Mexico, Port Aransas had become like a second home for the Wilks, who live full-time in Sound Beach.

They had visited Texas many times over the years, but began to look for a more permanent location to settle in several years ago, when Mr. Wilk was diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

“All he wanted to do was eat real Texas barbecue,” Ms. Wilk said. “We know someone that had lived in Port Aransas and what happened was it became our spot.”

Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane almost directly over Port Aransas last week, bringing with it winds of up to 132 mph. The storm lingered over Houston and parts of Louisiana for days, causing widespread flooding that brought back images of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. More than 60 people had been confirmed dead as a result of the storm as of Tuesday.

As Ms. Wilk watched the events unfold on television nearly 2,000 miles away, she could picture the faces of people she’d met along the way in her travels.

“Texas has been the love of our life,” she said.

Ms. Wilk, who retired from Cornell Cooperative Extension in 2015, has a long history of helping to coordinate projects around Riverhead, as a member of the town’s alternative transportation committee and as project coordinator for Creating Healthy Places, a grant program awarded through CCE. She was honored as the News-Review’s Public Servant of the Year in 2015.

Aerial images of Port Aransas after the storm showed widespread destruction: roofs ripped from homes, RVs tossed on their sides, boats toppled on marina docks.

“I’m dying to go down there and help,” Ms. Wilk said. “I can’t, unfortunately.”

The couple had considered buying a home in Port Aransas, Ms. Wilk said, and her husband had been pushing for it. They agreed, though, to wait until Mr. Wilk had a clearer outlook on his health.

A recent PET scan, according to doctors at both Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Stony Brook University Medical Center, came back “perfect,” Ms. Wilk said.

“This was the news we’ve been waiting for because it’s been three years,” she said.

Now was the time, they thought, to finally make Texas home.

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