Hurricane Harvey Showed Who We Really Are

Moments of trauma will always reveal what you value most. Growing up on the Gulf Coast of Texas, the time period between June and November is filled with nervous eyes watching the Gulf. Hurricane season is just 5 – 6 months of underlying anxiety. At any time, a storm can come up and take away everything you have worked for. Over my 39 years, I have evacuated myself or my family from no less than 7 or 8 hurricanes.

2017 was the first hurricane season we had gone through after buying our first home. No lie – watching a monster of a hurricane coming and sitting on top of your city is much more stressful when you own the house. We were lumped in with the other 70 – 80% of homeowners at the time estimated to not have flood insurance in Houston. It’s stupid, I know, but we gambled due to cleaning out our savings in the buying process, not being in a flood plain, and the house not flooding during the 2015 Memorial Day or the 2016 Tax Day floods

During the Storm

One of the main bayous on the west side of Houston, Mayde Creek, runs behind our property. Only a jogging trail and about 100 feet of land separate us. Usually not a big deal and a pretty good looking addition to the home. But when 40+ inches of rain fall in less than 4 days, the slow moving creek becomes a bit of a different animal altogether.

At least three times over the weekend of 8/26 – 8/28, Mayde Creek was running through my back yard. It’s a surreal feeling to open your back door and see a river current. At the deepest it was about shin high at the fence. Mayde was well out of bank for the duration of the weekend into Tuesday and through the beginning of September as seen here:

Mayde Harvey

For our neighborhood, Sunday was the worst night. The water in the street was thigh to waist high and moving at a good pace. The street was a 3 foot deep river. Our friends live one neighborhood away so we were checking on each other throughout the storm. On Sunday night, for whatever reason, we let our guard down for a bit and stopped watching local news storm coverage to clear our minds with the Game of Thrones season finale. Just an hour of normalcy in days of heightened anxiety was all we wanted.

The rain never relented over that hour and when I went into the garage to check the water in the street it had come all the way up into the garage about halfway to the door. We were incredibly lucky. Flood waters came up to about a quarter of an inch below our front and back doors. My house was an island. We fortunately bought a house at the highest point in the neighborhood – almost every house 3 doors down each way had a lot of water in their houses.

Just so much water

While we were incredibly fortunate to not have any real damage outside of needing to replace the roof, so many others were not as lucky. The amount of rain that fell over SE Texas in four days is truly astonishing. According to a Facebook post from Jeff Lidner, the Director of Harris County Flood Control District flood operations and forecasting, “Harvey would go on to produce catastrophic flooding across much of SE TX with unprecedented rainfall amounts and devastating impacts. In Harris County alone, 1 trillion gallons of rain fell in a 4-day period which would fill NRG stadium 1472 times and run Niagara Falls for 15 days. Rainfall averaged 33.7 inches across Harris County with a maximum total of 47.4 inches at Clear Creek and I-45. A maximum rainfall of 25.6 inches was recorded in 24-hrs near Hobby Airport and 14.8 inches in 3-hrs over the City of South Houston.

Storm total damages of 125 billion dollars [is] only second to hurricane Katrina. In Harris County: 154,170 homes flooded or about 10% of the total number of homes in the county at that time, 300,000 vehicles were flooded and 36 deaths. 68 deaths statewide was the largest number of deaths from a landfalling hurricane in Texas since 1919.”

The city of Houston averages 49.77 inches of rain per year and received 47+inches in 4 days. Absolutely bonkers.

In my hometown of Nederland, Texas Harvey made the worst kind of history as the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States marking off 60.58 inches of rain as the tropical storm pulled a U-Turn and hit them again. There were hundreds of thousands of people displaced and an unbelievable amount of heartbreak.

Look to the Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Mr. Rogers

Outside of the pain and suffering, the clean-up, the heat, the water literally everywhere what I remember the most is the almost immediate mobilization of volunteers. During the storm and just after members of the “Cajun Navy” showed up in their flat bottom boats and performed somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000+ rescues in Houston and the Beaumont/Port Arthur region.

Every day heroes broke out their Jeeps, jacked up trucks, boats, and even jet skis to get to people who needed to be saved from their homes. Their sanctuaries. But folks did it without asking questions. The government and private entities set up shelters immediately. There were clothing, food, and supply drives everywhere.

BBVA Stadium, where the Houston Dynamo typically play soccer became a supply dropoff spot and at one point they had received so many donations they had to stop accepting them. There was a time when they were turning away volunteers. What was not needed here was sent to the Golden Triangle area that had been hit so hard.

Lessons Learned

Long after a traumatic experience it is helpful and normal to look back and wonder what you could have done differently. What I learned is that for the most part, people want to help each other. As soon as folks found themselves in a safe position, they were out helping friends and neighbors dry their houses, tear down walls, throw out so much wet stuff.

We ran supplies to a local outreach organization and as soon as toilet paper and bread were back on the shelves we were making essentials runs to SE Texas to make sure everyone was taken care of. People who had never met were out helping as much as they could. There were hundred of thousands of acts of love after the storm.

That is what I will try to remember the most. Even in the worst time, look for the best. Look for love. Spread it as much as possible. And above all else, try to find some levity when you can.

Sarah Hames and friends from Friendswood, Tx kept their sense of humor throughout the cleanup and recovery process. They saw a barricade of sheetrock and their belongings in the front yard and went with “One Day More” from Les Miserables. Les Harveyables was born.

One of the more heart touching videos I saw in the immediate aftermath with a man who had come back to pick up some things from his flooded house. After seeing if his son’s piano would still work he sat down and recorded himself playing in a completely flooded house. It is haunting and beautiful. Something I just learned was after this clip went viral, Vanessa Carlton donated a new piano to him.

This post has been sitting in my drafts for almost 4 years. I wrote the majority of it around the one year anniversary of Harvey but could never get off my procrastinating ways to finish it and post. Here we are at the 5 year anniversary somehow and it all still feels very much like a lifetime ago and like it happened yesterday.

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