Hurricane Harvey and the Human Spirit

The Nothing Storm That Became a Category 4 Hurricane

Hurricane Harvey developed from a small tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico to a Category 3 storm in just three days. When it hit land at Rockport, Texas, the storm was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane. The winds died down shortly after landfall, and Hurricane Harvey was quickly downgraded to Category 1. After landfall, the area experienced flooding, winds, and tornadoes but the near-instant downgrade was like a punch in the nose to this natural disaster. That was the first of many blessings. If the winds had not immediately died down, Rockport would have been decimated.

Hurricane Harvey Created Historic Flooding

Newscasters rightly predicted the storm would hover over south Texas for five days. They correctly predicted flooding in many areas. However, they could not predict the historic amount of rainfall. In fact, the weather maps did not have a color for the depth of flooding, and the National Weather Service had to create two new colors. All told, the measured rainfall reached 27 trillion gallons in Texas and Louisiana. Some areas received up to 50” of rain. The most recent measure for this type of flooding is Hurricane Katrina which dumped 6.5 trillion gallons.

Houston Was Not Ordered to Evacuate

The Mayor of Houston and state officials did not issue an evacuation order for Houston, and I support that decision. The 2005 image below from Hurricane Science is of Houston traffic fleeing Hurricane Rita. The image  demonstrates how many people would have been stranded on freeways during the flooding.

More people died on the road to Dallas than were lost to Hurricane Harvey. Temperatures in 2005 hovered near 100 degrees, and the traffic jam lasted for 1.5 days. Evacuees rolled down windows to avoid using the air conditioner to save fuel. Most evacuees did not have enough fresh water, and dozens of people died on roads leading away from Houston.

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Roads leading out of Houston were clogged with traffic.

The image below from KRISTV demonstrates the depth of water on Houston freeways. Thousands of people would have drowned in their cars. It would have been horrific. I don’t think words can describe what would have happened, but it would have been a mass casualty event.

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Surface roads and freeways were buried under flood water from Hurricane Harvey.

This image is I-10 East in Houston before it connects with I-45 South.

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Flood waters rise to the ‘Be Someone’ bridge at I-10 East in Houston.

Media Information For Hurricane Preparation Was Limited

Going back to the pre-hurricane newscasts, I didn’t hear any newscasters offer the following:

  • Fill large containers with water and store them several feet above the ground
  • Purchase a water-filtration system
  • Charge your phone and other portable charging devices
  • Fill up your gas tank
  • Buy portable gas cans and fill them up
  • Put together a ‘go-bag’
  • Put medications and prescriptions in zip-lock bags
  • Put insurance paperwork in zip-lock bags
  • Print out phone numbers of your friends and family and seal the information in a bag

Post-Hurricane Cleanup Information Was Also Limited

They also didn’t tell us what to expect when the waters receded from homes and businesses. They should have told people to pick up the following items from hardware stores:

  • Construction trash bags
  • Utility knives
  • Hammers
  • Laser levels
  • Face masks
  • Heavy-duty gloves
  • Fans
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Crow bars
  • Bottled water

That is the lesson. Don’t rely on the news for news. I’m not criticizing them; I just think they could have communicated better. We expected days of rain, but nobody told us how to prepare adequately for the storm.

Social Media Saved Lives During Hurricane Harvey

The difference between Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Harvey is social media. I joined groups on Facebook whose sole purpose was to share information regarding rescue locations, shelters, pet rescues, and other details. For five days I shared information with people that were trying to find friends, families, and pets. Every Facebook post that I could add value by helping connect people with what they needed is what I focused on doing.

The stores were closed, and the roads were flooded, so there was no reason for me to go anywhere. Rescue groups with boats arrived in Houston and teams of volunteers used the Zello app and GPS coordinates to plan rescues. They were here days before federal help arrived, and those groups rescued thousands of people that were stranded by high water.

Mattress Mack – the Houston Legend

People like Jim McIngvale, “Mattress Mack” owner of Gallery Furniture opened his furniture stores to flood victims and their pets. He gave them a place to rest, sleep and even fed them. No one asked Mack to do this, and they didn’t have to ask. McIngvale was concerned about people, and his brand new furniture and mattresses provided a source of comfort and refuge to people that were forced from their homes by flood waters. The furniture will probably have to be disposed because of what it was exposed to from people that had to walk through flood waters. Jim would have known that in advance, but he was more concerned about helping strangers, than protecting his store inventory.

Volunteers Clean Up Flooded Homes

Once the water began to recede in my area, I registered to volunteer for cleanup work. I connected with a newly created group called Recovery Houston. People that need help with cleanup post their contact information on the Recovery Houston Facebook page, and the information is added to a list. Teams of volunteers show up for different shifts and are sent to help people on the list. This includes tearing out wet flooring, sheet rock, trash and other debris.

I have never been part of something that is so overwhelming. Temperatures were in the mid-90’s, and the humidity was awful. The stench is indescribable, but if you can imagine the smell of overflowing sewage – you get the picture. We used simple tools like utility knives, hammers, and crowbars. As a team, we could remove 24.25” – 48.25” of sheet rock from an entire home in 3-4 hours. The homeowners we worked with were gracious beyond measure. They are all so appreciative of the manpower, which is a start to rebuilding what they have lost.

Harvey – You Missed!

Each day I expected to wake up to murky flood water in my home. But my home did not flood, and I never lost water or power (for more than a few minutes). Flood water surrounded homes and cars within .5 mile from me. I was lucky, but restless. I felt like I had so much and wanted to help my community.

I found websites that provided real-time road conditions, but honestly – I was afraid to leave my house for the first five days. Video of cars being swept away by high water, and people and pets getting rescued by boats was something I wanted to avoid.

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This street off Sage Road had never flooded before.

Large trees began to fall from the weight of the water and saturated soil. The trees in my neighborhood fell away from the homes they had graced for decades. It was as if a Tree Whisperer had come through the area and asked them to be graceful in their very last moments.

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Saturated trees and soil cause them trees to fall.

Cleanup along the Texas Gulf Coast will take months. Many small towns in south Texas need donations and manpower for cleanup and rebuilding. If they don’t get the help they need, those towns could disappear.

The Most Vile Forms of the Human Race Come Out to Feast

Vultures in the form of people have already descended upon south Texas to take advantage of unattended stores, empty homes, and hand outs. These bottom feeders were looking for free stuff, dirty construction contracts and take whatever is available. Homeowners in south Texas set up signs to warn looters.

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Sometimes you just have to let people know that there will be consequences.

Flood victims have suffered enough and shouldn’t have to worry about protecting what little remains of their property. An elderly woman in Meyerland drowned in her home. Looters broke into her flooded home and stole items from the house, while her body was still in the water. Disasters bring out the best and the worst in people, and Hurricane Harvey was no exception.

Volunteers Made A Huge Difference in South Texas

The volunteers, from within Texas and from other states are incredible people. They used their own gas, boats, tools and time to help Texans in a time of crisis. Hundreds of volunteers put themselves in harm’s way to rescue people and pets. I will never forget the people I’ve met, or lessons I’ve learned or the blessings I have come to appreciate from Hurricane Harvey. It is the will of the human spirit to overcome, and we will continue to overcome. This may be a new normal for those of us on the Texas Gulf Coast, and that’s alright.

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