How do I even begin this latest installment of coffee talk? A question I’ve asked myself over and over again the last few days. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I could ever adequately put into words what it’s been like to live in Houston the last few weeks. Adjectives like scary, heartbreaking and hopeful immediately come to mind. And while we’ve been so fortunate to be okay, there are so many who are not. So here it goes, my attempt to share the before, during and after effects of Hurricane Harvey and the on-set massive flooding event, plus some of my personal tips to prepare for a hurricane.
Let’s rewind a bit, to last month in fact. Rick and I returned home from our vacation to Santa Barbara on Monday evening, August 21st. Everything seemed to be getting back to normal for us – unpacking, getting back into routine with our pup, Lucy. Generally in the early evenings I like to sit down and watch the local news at 5pm which immediately rolls into the nightly news at 5:30pm. So on Tuesday the 22nd I sat down and watched. This was the first I had heard about some rumblings in the tropics, including a newly named tropical system, Harvey.
Mind you, we live in Houston. The Gulf Coast is a ripe spot for hurricanes every year. Fortunately in the years I’ve lived here, each season has come and gone with nothing significant coming out of the tropics.
I admit I am an easy worrier. But, because the city has been so lucky prior to this year, I’ve never really put much thought into hurricane preparedness. The first year I moved to Houston, my grandmother encouraged me to put together a small hurricane kit for my apartment (which we still have): a small cooler on wheels, filled with some battery operated candles, one gallon of water, extra packs of batteries, a battery-operated iPhone charger and some flashlights.
On Wednesday August 23rd, I remember sitting down to watch the news and hearing a bit of edge in our local forecaster, Tim Heller’s, voice when explaining the forecast models for Harvey. I previously interned at the station he works at, ABC 13 and had met the weather team a few times. To say I wasn’t listening closely to his warnings was an understatement. I mentioned something to Rick about Harvey and the possibility of it edging up to our coast later in the weekend and we both agreed it probably wouldn’t happen. Nonetheless, later that evening we grabbed some dinner and decided just in case to stop by a grocery store to grab some bottles of water. Whelp, after visiting two different grocery stores, I finally grabbed one of the last 24 packs of water available. Again, usually not easily spooked but definitely a weird feeling to be ‘searching’ for water. We also decided to stop at the gas station on our way home and fill up.
Fast forward to Friday morning, the 25th, and I remember waking up to emails of events cancelled, postponements of different gatherings, etc. Mandatory evacuations had been called for portions of the Gulf Coast southwest of us. This was real. Hurricane Harvey had aimed itself in our direction. And as a reminder, Houston is not on the coast, but we are close to it. So the concern for this hurricane was not landfall super near Houston, but instead a big rain event as Harvey made its way over the city.
Unfortunately the city of Houston has not been a stranger to flooding events in the recent years. We are a city of bayous, outlying creeks and rivers that run south and dump out into the Gulf. But when these bodies of water fill up quickly because of rain, they’ve breached their banks in recent years, causing flooding.
That Friday morning I sat glued to the TV thinking to myself, okay this could most definitely be an issue. We just moved into our house and while it hasn’t experienced any flooding before, could it flood this time around with the amount of rain the forecasters were calling for? The worry I previously mentioned, well it began to rear its head. I told Rick that I thought we needed to try and make it to a grocery store and grab some essentials (I had already been earlier in the week, so we were mostly prepared), plus to fill up my gas tank. Little did I realize the run on water, gas, all the basic necessities was in full force. Fortunately our local Kroger had stocked up big time on water so we didn’t have to wait in the massive lines you might’ve saw on tv, etc.
It began raining Friday night, and definitely was steady. So as I watched coverage of Hurricane Harvey slam into the Gulf Coast, specifically the small coastal town of Rockport, with the force of a category 4 hurricane, the worry began to reach an all time high.
But Saturday morning we woke up and the rain had subsided. We hung around the house throughout the day and decided to grab an early dinner out at a neighborhood BBQ joint whose doors were open. Once we got back home, we again began flipping the channels and watched a bootlegged stream of the fight. It started to rain again, but we didn’t really think much of it. Little did we know, that would be the first of many days of rain to come.
Houston is largely concrete. With tons of development, the city has begun to turn into a locale that floods easily with heavy rainfall.
The fight ended, we flipped on the news and right in front of our eyes we started seeing reporters out in the streets get stuck in their vehicles on freeways, overpasses and intersections that are easily prone to flooding. I don’t think we went to bed until 3am that night. And even then we were sleeping with one eye open as our phones continued to go off with tornado watches and warnings, flood threats, etc. We slept with our TV on just in case. On early Sunday, the 27th, I woke up after maybe 2 hours of sleep and looked out our front window. Never in my life had I seen something like this, water was rushing like a river in our streets, with it still raining and sitting about half a foot on our driveway.
We are extremely fortunate as our home sits up on the lot and we have an inclined driveway. We also don’t live near a bayou or other body of water. But, still I was worried. I began texting a few friends who I knew had homes closer to areas that were prone to flooding and began praying that things were okay for them. For the sake of length, I’ll just tell you that the next day-and-a-half are an absolute blur. The rain did stop periodically, but I was glued to the TV, like a moth to a flame, crying for the people of Houston and feeling absolutely helpless.
Our Strom drains did their job and repeatedly drained themselves quickly when the rain subsided. But so many were not as fortunate. I watched our local news reporters make water rescues, saw your everyday person go out on a canoe or a fishing boat and attempt to rescue people. I watched people get airlifted and dropped on a freeway that I travel often, and endless amounts of cars overrun with water. The wall-to-wall coverage on every news channel featured just about the same, more and more people being flooded out of their homes, needing rescuing, etc. People were climbing into their attics away from the water, but in fear of situations like Katrina, city officials asked either you bring an axe in your attic to cut yourself out or get on the roof and wave a white piece of fabric or sheet so Coastguard helicopters know you need help.
Let me just tell you, I watched Katrina unfold in front of my eyes on tv all those years ago. We had a few Katrina victims come to our high school temporarily, all the way in Phoenix. But, never in my life did I think I would watch that exact situation play out again in the U.S., let alone the city I live in. Because it rained so much in other cities North and West of us, the rain began flowing down our bayous, creeks and rivers and the water levels just continued to rise. I have some close friends whose homes flooded, and it just breaks my heart to think of the helplessness the must’ve felt.
Even as Hurricane Harvey began to make its way east of Houston, the flooding event continued. The Army Corps. of Engineers had to make a decision concerning two reservoirs surrounding the city. Either let them try to empty on their own and risk a breach (think of Katrina and the levy system) or do controlled releases to ease the water levels of the reservoirs. Unfortunately as we’ve learned now, this was a lose-lose situation as many homes who hadn’t flooded due to Harvey began taking on water after these controlled releases.
It’s now been more than two weeks since Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast and proceeded more than 50 inches of water on the city of Houston. Most of the water that came from Harvey has drained out of homes, but there are still so many that sit in water from the controlled reservoir releases. Just because we were untouched doesn’t mean that our hearts weren’t. My heart still aches for my friends, people whose stories I read and the city of Houston.
The flooding event we experienced is something that could’ve never been prepared for. It has now been said that Houston experienced a 1000 year flood – a flooding event that has the chance of happening 1/1000 times in 1000 years… you do the math. The odds of something happening like this in our lifetime were slim, but it happened.
And while the city of Houston and its people are strong, #HoustonStrong, the cleanup and mending of hearts will take weeks, months, if not years. There is still so much help and aid that is needed here in the city. Many lost their homes, but those that perhaps weren’t directly affected by flooding are now affected in that their place of work is closed until further notice or their employer took on water and has stopped business for the time being. The chain reaction has and will continue to be huge.
In an effort to make this post applicable to you, I want to share with you a few tips to prepare for a hurricane or flooding event:
– Keep a cooler or plastic bin filled with bare necessities needed for survival. For us, our hurricane kit now includes the following: A couple gallons of water and water bottles, non-perishable protein bars and snacks, an LED lantern and multiple flashlights, packs of batteries, copies of important documents, cash and the like kept in a waterproof container, a blanket, some battery-operated candles, a first aid kit, battery-operated radio and food for our dog Lucy. Simply put, this bin will now serve as a lifeline should we ever need to ride out a hurricane without power or leave our house in a hurry should we ever experience flooding.
– Have an escape plan. Talk through the routes that you can take to get out of your neighborhood or city should it come to that point.
– Have flood insurance. Unfortunately so many people in Houston didn’t have flood insurance because they simply weren’t in a flood plain. I think now it’s safe to say, if you made it through Harvey, the extra $$ it costs for flood insurance are extremely worthwhile.
– Fill a bathtub(s) with water right before the event, in anticipation of losing water. Should you lose water or the city go on a boil-only use, you’ll have water to flush the toilets and potentially boil for cooking and washing purposes.
– Have a safe spot in your home. Because of the countless tornado warnings during Harvey, we setup our guest bathroom as our makeshift shelter. It is interior in our home, with no windows. There I kept a blanket, battery operated candles and a spare phone charger if we found ourselves spending lengthy amounts of time in there for safety.
If you’re interested in more lengthy tips to prepare for a hurricane and flood preparedness, check out this hurricane preparedness guide from the National Hurricane Center. The above are simply tips that I personally implemented and would recommend to friends who asked.
As we’ve seen, Harvey most certainly won’t be the last hurricane we experience here in Texas or the U.S., but the effects of Harvey here in Texas have been absolutely devastating.
If you’re local in Houston, our church is running a huge food pantry for the city. They still need donations to continue operating. You can out more information here. If you’re not local but would like to help, consider donating to the following reputable charities: Houston Food Bank, Samaritan’s Purse, United Way of Greater Houston and YMCA of Greater Houston. Or you can also donate to JJ Watt’s Houston Flood Relief Fund that has since reached the $32 million mark. You can also see this post from a few week’s ago on how to help.
And if you made it all the way to here in the post, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read and understand what myself and other Houstonians went through before, during and now after Hurricane Harvey. #HoustonStrong