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I live in Texas, and a little over a week ago, Hurricane Harvey brought a part of our state to its knees. While we will be dealing with the aftermath for quite some time, I know that the rest of the country will soon be moving on. That’s just how life works. While everything is still fresh in our collective minds, I want to share what happened and some of what I saw. When a storm is barreling toward you, you may be forced to decide what’s important. A hurricane will help you decide.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas. But almost immediately after that, the story shifted to Houston and the catastrophic flooding that followed. Much like Katrina, which made landfall outside of New Orleans, the flooding they experienced quickly became the story. I feel bad for the people of Rockport, as I have not seen much news coverage of their plight.
To give you an idea of how much water we are talking about, Harvey inundated the Texas coast with 9 trillion gallons of water. Trillion.
- That amount of rain would fill the Great Salt Lake in Utah twice.
- It would fill the Empire State Building 33,906 times.
- It equals nine days of Mississippi River flow.
- And it would cover the entire lower 48 states with .17″ of water.
That is a lot of rain, which no doubt would cause a problem for nearly any part of the country that received that type of deluge in the span of a few days.
I live in a lovely rural area of Texas on the Brazos River. Last spring, we experienced a scary week when heavy rains from the Hill Country filled the Brazos, which eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico. All that water had to come through us before making it out to sea. The river began to rise where we live. Flood stage for this river is 45 feet, and prior to last spring, the river had never risen beyond 50 feet. Then last spring it rose to 54 feet. It was very nerve wracking as we watched the river spill over its banks and back up into our neighborhood, cutting a swath right down the middle, cutting those of us in the back of the neighborhood off from the rest of the world.
When the relentless rains began in Houston last week, the predictions were that the river would rise to 59 feet before cresting. We were stunned and alarmed. The water was so close to our home last year that we did not think we would escape a flooded home if those predictions were right. We just kept watching the news over last weekend, trying to process what to do. Just as last year, the river began to cut through our neighborhood, and we knew it would soon be impossible to cross. We did not want to be trapped in our home with no way out if the river rose four feet higher than it had ever been. So we made the gut wrenching decision to leave.
Harvey made landfall last Thursday night and although we were not in the direct path, Houston had a rough night. We did not sleep because our phones were going off about every fifteen minutes with flood and tornado warnings. We awoke the next morning to find that a tornado had torn right through the front of our neighborhood, toppling massive trees as if they were potted plants. We had lost power the night the hurricane made landfall and spent the whole weekend running a few things on a generator. That was getting old. I do want to tell you about something we installed the afternoon before the storm made landfall. If you live in an area that loses power easily and/or often as we do, you may want to look into a transfer switch kit for generators which is connected to your generator when the power goes out. We have well water, meaning we don’t have water when the power goes out. A kit like this allows you to choose what things you want to power with your generator.
When the power goes out, you turn on the generator, plug this thing into it, and the generator then powers what you have wired into the kit. We were able to connect the lights in the kitchen, living room, one bedroom and bath, two refrigerators, and our well pump. This made life infinitely more bearable when the power went out. Which happened two hours after we had it installed. Many people in our area have invested in Generacs, which kick on immediately during a power outage and can power an entire house. If you don’t need or aren’t ready to make that kind of investment, a transfer switch kit is definitely something to look into. Installation requires knowledge of electricity so if you don’t know how to work with electricity, definitely hire an electrician to do it for you.
After a weekend with no power, I had been trying to sleep on the couch with a fan blowing straight at my face. Last Monday morning, my husband woke me up and told me we had about three hours before the road into our neighborhood would be impassable. He told me to start gathering what was important to me because his brother and our nephews were on their way to our house to help elevate all the furniture. I had a feeling this moment was coming and had spent a sleepless night going room by room in my mind thinking about what I would want to save.
So you’re given a three-hour window to decide what of all your possessions are the things you can’t bear to lose. What are those things? Strangely, I was fairly calm gathering things I wanted to protect. I first grabbed the packet I keep updated at all times with our passports, birth certificates and insurance information in it. I put it together years ago when Hurricane Ike was headed for Houston.
My next stop was to collect all the pictures that were important to us. Pictures of our family and daughter from baby pictures to senior pictures. I put all of them in a box and handed them to my husband to take up to the attic. I also gathered all of the inventory for my business that I would need to ship out. I did not want to lose that investment and would need to continue my business as soon as possible when we returned. So up into the attic it went.
Then came a weird choice, at least I think so based on the look I got from my husband. I went to the dining room and carefully gathered up all the good silver, wrapped in its protective tarnish proof cloth. I handed my husband that box and he took a look and said, “The good silver? Really?” I just gave him a look that said in the nicest way possible, “Fool, please. It took me years to collect all of this and we’re not going to live like SAVAGES when this is all over.” 🙂 I put electronic equipment needed for my business up high on top of cabinets. I tied up curtains to get them off of the floor. Then I tried to put favorite books and decorative items up high before going to throw some clothes into a suitcase. I collected all of my jewelry and put it in my suitcase. I didn’t know how much or what kind of clothing to take, as I had no idea how long we would be gone. So I just grabbed a few things and then gathered up our little dog, her food, cage, and toys. I lugged everything to the kitchen just as my brother-in-law arrived to take me back to his house while my nephews and husband got to work elevating furniture.
It was pouring down rain as I climbed into his truck and looked in the back seat to see that everything I deemed important would fit in our attic and the back seat of a pickup. I started to cry, probably exacerbated by not having slept in four days, but also because of the weight of the situation. I think we all know that all the things we work for are ephemeral and can be taken away. But to stand in a rain storm looking at your home knowing that you may not ever see it this way again causes a wave of grief that is a challenge to withstand.
My brother-in-law snaked his way back to his house where his sweet wife was waiting for me with coffee and waffles. He dropped me off and headed back to my house to help with whatever flood proofing could be done at our house. I’m grateful I was spared that activity because I think I would have had a difficult time with it. The guys all returned a few hours later, saying they had elevated everything they could and wrapped everything they couldn’t in plastic garbage bags.
We had done all we could do.
We spent the next week watching the flooding aftermath unfold throughout the entire Houston area. It was really incomprehensible. I have lived in Texas for the better part of thirty years and have been through storms and hurricanes before, but this was like nothing I have ever seen. I don’t think anyone had ever seen anything like it. Our sweet neighbors who had decided to stay were diligent about texting us pictures of our home as the river continued to rise. I can tell you it is unnerving to see river water back filling the drainage ditches next to your home. This is a picture of the retention ditch behind our home. The ditch is on the right and is normally completely empty. It is full of back flow from the river. The water on the left is the river out of its banks. That little patch of land between the two is all that stood between the two becoming one and spilling over into our homes. May that little piece of land remain strong and prosper. 🙂
In the end, the rains finally stopped and the river crested at a little over 55 feet, higher than last year but we still managed to squeak by without our home being flooded. So many others in Houston were not so fortunate. One friend whose home took on water told me it is hard to see your life in a pile in your driveway. 🙁 It is heartbreaking to see how so many have lost so much.
But what Texas didn’t lose was its heart and its ability to rise. I saw endless acts of courage and kindness and generosity that could make even a cynic like me believe in the goodness of mankind. I will never know what all of you saw as you watched this unfold, as our local news was on 24 hours a day and we didn’t see any other type of coverage. So there are some things I want to share with you that I saw. Not the few looters. I would be totally fine with looters being shot on sight, but if we absolutely must give them due process, I am fine with the death penalty. I don’t care if a looter comes to Jesus in the final moments of their life. They should go straight to hell. Anyone who would prey on homes and businesses in a time of extreme crisis does not deserve to draw one more breath.
So not the looters. But the good stuff. Like the lady and her little daughter who showed up with soup where people were being brought out of their flooded neighborhoods.
The high school football teams who showed up in droves to help people they didn’t know begin the cleanup process.
The Cajun Navy. Do NOT get me started on how much I love these guys. These are just dudes from Louisiana who show up in times of crisis with boats and get to the gettin.’ They showed up to our neighborhood with air boats to take the guys from the power company into our neighborhood to make repairs. The problem wasn’t so much IN our neighborhood but rather getting THROUGH our neighborhood through high water. Cajun Navy. Problem solved. I don’t know if any of you have pull with the United States Navy, but these guys deserve medals of valor for their unselfish efforts to rescue people from their homes and deliver people and supplies.
Mattress Mack. If you don’t know about Jim “Mattress Mack” MacIngvale, your life will never be quite as bright as it could be. 🙂 He is a legendary businessman in Houston who owns furniture stores. He is a shameless promoter of his business, in the best possible way. Everyone knows his commercials. Furniture made in America. Buy it today, we deliver tonight! The only thing more ubiquitous than his commercials is his unfailing generosity. He helps any and every time something is needed. He opened one of his furniture stores on our side of town as a shelter and allowed folks to sleep on the expensive furniture he sells in his stores. These people were living large. And he fed them. And insisted that the Coast Guard sleep in his mattress department. One of our news anchors said that only Mack could provide a Tempurpedic bivouac. 🙂 One lady staying at his store told him it was her 84th birthday and that she had lost everything. Mack gave her a new mattress for her birthday.
Or the church group that went neighborhood by neighborhood conducting “Mud Outs.” They would show up at a house with cleaning products in tow and start helping people tear out drywall and clean the mud from their homes.
Or the cattle drives to rescue stranded cows. Cowboys. Real life studs with names like Colt and Rowdy and Buck and Magnum just show up on horses to help ranchers get their cattle to higher ground. I’ve seen this first hand in our area, as it is definitely cow and horse country. It is truly a sight to behold. My question is how these guys’ parents all know to name them cowboy names. Do their names determine that they will become cowboys? Or does it just happen?
Our sheriff with an elderly lady’s purse on his arm as he gently helped out of her flooded home and into an air boat.
The two guys who showed up on jet skis to rescue an elderly couple from their flooded home. The couple always called in a daily breakfast order to Chick-fil-A. The morning they found themselves trapped in their home and couldn’t reach help through 911, they called Chick-fil-A for help. Even though the store was closed, the manager happened to be there, recognized the number, and answered the phone. He made some calls and sent two guys on jet skis to get them. They drove them right out of their front door on those jet skis.
And finally, this guy. I mean, COME ON. I don’t look this good on my best day. How does he manage to look this good rescuing a child? All I have to say is DAMN. And thank you, sir, whoever you are. 🙂
These are just a few of the countless wonderful things I saw happen in the midst of a very trying week. And I’m willing to bet that no one asked about a person’s political affiliation before asking for or giving help. We CAN work together. Why we don’t unless there is a crisis is beyond me.
As I said earlier, I know that the rest of the world will move on quickly from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The recovery effort here will take a bit longer. We were finally able to return to our home this weekend and went to get some dinner at a Chinese restaurant after tossing all of the food we lost from a ten-day power outage. We opened our fortune cookies and both smiled at what we read.
I want to pass these hopeful fortunes on to my fellow Texans. We are down but never out. We will get there. We always do.
I’d love to know what things you would save if you had to leave your home. Share your thoughts in the comment section.
Thanks for reading!
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