Hurricane Harvey Hits Houston
Nov 7, 2017 News Archive
During the last weekend of August, while I was away getting our daughter settled at her new school, Hurricane Harvey was wreaking havoc in Texas, first making landfall as a category 4 near Rockport, and then making a loop to hit Houston 3 days later. Personally, our only issue was my being stuck in New York due to the closing of Hobby Airport, but many people in the area (including some colleagues) were affected by the flooding. Since then, Florida, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have also been affected by hurricanes, with equal or greater destruction.
As mentioned in an earlier article, I lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and was staying in Houston during Hurricane Rita about two weeks later. I evacuated both times and luckily we experienced little to no damage. Both of those hurricanes caused major flooding, and yet somehow, I still am so surprised when the bulk of hurricane damage happens several days after the eye makes landfall and the intensity of the hurricane has gone down. As was the case in New Orleans during Katrina, the bulk of Harvey’s damage was flooding, and much of it due to failure of man-made structures.
We’ve all seen images of the devastation (before and after satellite images of areas that experienced massive flooding ). For this article, I decided to focus on the aftermath, and in particular on helping.
When I was in New York and had to extend my stay because I couldn’t fly into Hobby, two generous New Yorkers offered their help. The first one moved a guest’s schedule so I could extend my stay 3 more days, and the second one let me stay at her place for free – Thank you Dorian and Miranda! While I was staying in New York, my wife (Sheryl) opened our house and hosted Bart and his family as their downtown condo lost power and had its parking garage flooded. We also had one of our employees living in an area with a mandatory evacuation. He and his wife stayed with friends and watched with nervousness as the waters rose in their neighborhood. Thankfully, they had no flooding and they were able to return home quickly. Others were not so fortunate, and they immediately opened their home to assist friends who had their houses flooded.
But the help was not just among friends or family members. Through social media sites, volunteers had ample opportunities to see where they could help. After I made it back to Houston, I answered a request on our local Nextdoor (Neighborhood App) to help clean someone’s house. I didn’t know the person making the request nor the person I volunteered to help. This happened all over Houston.
The timing of my help was almost two full weeks after Harvey made land-fall (as I was stuck in New York and then had a family funeral to attend in Mexico before I was able to return to Houston after Labor Day). So, by the time I went to help, much of the furniture and ripped sheetrock was already out of the house (see picture below). Talking with the home owner, he told me their house had never flooded prior to the Memorial day 2015 flooding, but now had experience in how to deal with it. Still, he said that it would likely be four months before he’s able to get back to living at his house. For many others, it will be far longer.
The home owner’s telling me that this time around he knew what to expect during the home repair process reminded me of our flooding experience. About a month before our daughter was born in 1998, my wife had just started working as an assistant professor at Tulane University, but I had not yet left my teaching position at Texas A&M – Galveston. So, we rented a basement apartment in New Orleans, conveniently located only a few blocks from the Tulane campus while I still lived in Houston. On September 11, Tropical storm Frances was hitting the Gulf Coast, causing significant flooding in Houston to where school was closed that particular day. Early that afternoon, as my wife was getting ready to go and teach her class, she found the street flooded and returned to the apartment to call the office and let them know she’d likely be late. Not long after that, she found herself scrambling to lift critical items, as water started rising in the apartment – eventually reaching ~20 inches. The next day, I flew to New Orleans and with Sheryl’s family’s help, we salvage what we could. That day, we met Lolis Eric Elie who at the time wrote for the Times Picayune and was a friend of Sheryl’s sister (who is also a journalist). He talked to us and some of our neighbors about the surprise flooding and how devastating it was. The next day, he had a column in the newspaper entitled TWO STORIES OF ONE FLOOD, in which he quotes one of the neighbors stating the fact that because of past flooding experiences, he knew exactly how many pieces of sheet-rock he had to order to make repairs to his flooded house.
I also find interesting the fact that our daughter’s arrival as a newborn and her departure from our home to go to college were both marked by flooding (in addition to having experienced hurricane Katrina, too), all of which she missed.
Back to the original article
Helping hands also came from out-of-town volunteers and celebrities/athletes. Of these, JJ Watt’s fund-raising efforts are the best example of the positive effect sport celebrities can have in a community. (For those of you who don’t follow American football, JJ Watt is the Houston TEXAN’s super star defensive end). Houston’s other major sports have also made significant contributions, with Rockets owner, Leslie Alexander pledging $10MM and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane pledging $4MM.
Businesses also offered help, in little ways and in large ways. A Houston furniture store magnate known as Mattress Mac opened his retail furniture stores to refugees. From a google search, I found the below stories detailing various ways in which small businesses, tech companies, local companies and large corporations are contributing towards the relief efforts.
Many times, the help comes in the form of providing information on where to go to obtain help. Many of us have donated time and/or money to help those in need. This is important to remember because although the affected areas are no longer in the news it does not mean help is no longer needed.