Surviving Hurricane Harvey: One Family’s Story

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Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the South Texas coastline on Aug. 25. In Houston, the endless rain would take its toll on the city, leaving much of it underwater for days.

The moment Hurricane Harvey hit, everyone called family and friends to see if they were safe and find out what we could do. My first call was to my friends Suzy and Brian. Brian is a vice president with an energy company. Suzy is a designer and owner of an antique shop. They have two boys and a Labradoodle. They live in West Houston close to Buffalo Bayou. This is their story.

Brian: It rained Saturday and Saturday and Sunday night. I walked out the door, and the street was moving literally like a river of water. It was 8 to 9 inches deep running towards the sewers.

It was shocking to see the entire street flooded. When I went back inside, the flood authority was announcing the were doing a controlled release of water from Addicks and Barker’s reservoirs beginning as early as 2 a.m. Those are close by and upstream from our house. They were sending water downstream towards us into a flood situation, and the bayou was overflowing. That’s when we decided that with kids and a dog, the risk was too great to stay in place. Everyone was told not to evacuate in the darkness.

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A Texas National Guardsman shakes hands with a resident after assisting his family during Hurricane Harvey flooding in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27, 2017. (Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)

Leaving Home

“We spent the night moving furniture to the second floor.”

Suzy: We got out our Boy Scout cots to elevate the furniture on the first floor that we could not move.

Brian: It was crazy, anything we could find to get things a few inches off the ground, we used.

Suzy: We had boards made to fit our windows for Hurricane Ike, and we put those up and did everything we could outside.

Brian: We spent the whole night preparing. We were securing the house and preparing an escape kit with the important documents like birth certificates, social security card numbers, passport, clothes, toiletries and stuff for the dog. We packed up the cars that morning, loaded water and food, and we waited until daybreak. It was emotional. You don’t know what you are coming back to.

Brian: We left as soon as the sun rose on Monday morning..

We did not know where we were going when we walked out the door. We looked at the weather radar to see where to head and decided to go up 290 towards College Station and Austin.

Suzy: It was the only road we saw that was open. I texted friends and said, “We are driving your way, we will sleep on the floor, will you take us?”

Houston streets that flooded quickly were lined with submerged cars.

The Cavalry

Brian: It was a surreal ride.

The tollway is normally packed, and we were the only car on the road. We felt like we missed a sign and maybe an announcement that had said not to drive this way.

Suzy: We could see cars floating to our right and left. As we drove, we saw the tops of cars. You think how did that happen, is there anyone in there, did they get out?

There was only one stretch of standing water we had to cross. We saw cars get through the water on 290. I was happy we were in an SUV.

As we were on 290, there were flashing lights. We came to a stop. The road was being used as a one-way road out of Houston and patrolmen and stopping people along the way to let the Cajun navy come through. We saw this whole convoy of support vehicles going into Houston.

It kinds of scares you, but you realize the cavalry is on the way. It’s a sign that resources are being marshaled and it was comforting.

Going Home

Brian: One of the great things about Houston is a lot of people have boats, and a lot of young guys are helping out in the rescue. There were kids from schools rescuing people. It’s’ really commendable.

We stayed with friends. We had been there before, so it was familiar for our kids. It has been a great place to collect our thoughts.

We thought about going back Wednesday. The weather clearing is part of the equation. When the sun is shining, you feel safer. We heard yesterday that flooding near my office in the energy corridor was happening. We figured maybe wait another day, so we went Thursday.

On Thursday, we got back at about 1 p.m. The route back into Houston was clear and accessible. Our street was still flooded, and we had to park our car outside of the neighborhood and walk in.

Suzy: I got a lift in a big Jeep to get to the house. The houses are built up off the street so Brian could walk up on the yards to get to the house. We were fortunate the street in front of our house was dry. We heard if your home has not been flooded by now, it should not be.

We should be OK.

Brian: We have power, the house is dry, and school starts next Tuesday. Our neighborhood is impacted, but we need to return to a sense of normalcy. We may have to continue walking in and out of the neighborhood. Due to the release of the water, they are going to keep the flooding level the way it is. So, the level will stay the same.

There is a lot of water.

You can see clearly that where the water from Addicks Dam is just north of the energy corridor and that water is flowing south. It’s flowing into the creek that is alongside the energy quarter.

Business as Usual

Brian: I think most people work largely on laptops and are networked. We can work from home. There has been no wind damage, so power has stayed on for the most part. I’m keeping in contact by email and text. The focus is account for your team. We are still working. Things are getting done. Business, as usual, being done from home. There is a period where that is sustainable. Businesses have contingency plans and alternate work sites. Business is going to continue in Houston.

I think a lot of the messaging is getting people back to work. The airport is reopening. Our water supply was not in jeopardy. We were pleasantly taken by the fact that there were gas stations with gas. The infrastructure is picking up. I think Houston will move to recovery very quickly.

The Aftermath

Suzy: We have friends that lost their homes. They evacuated to Dallas, they have no flood insurance, and the water took her entire first floor. One friend was rescued by a boat, grabbed her purse and left.

I think most of the people that were told to evacuate did as soon as someone knocked on their door.

There are a lot of people helping people.

One of the gentlemen on our street said at 10 p.m. the National Guard was there. The entrance to our neighborhood is under water. They made no arrests under the curfew the first night.

People are playing by the rules.

The kids’ school is open, but I’m not sure how to get them there yet because so many streets are still closed. The grocery store is open. Social media is a great tool. The neighborhood groups are giving out information like which store has water. They take a photo of the aisle and post it.

One friend has a moving business. She drove to San Antonio and was able to secure sheet rock so she could truck it in and give it to people who need it.

A lot of the neighborhoods have put wish lists at the front of the neighborhood. You will see things like the house at # 32 needs lumber, the house at # 47 needs a drill. People go out and get these things and drop them off with a central person posted at the entrance to the neighborhood and the necessary items get delivered.

There are a lot of people doing laundry, running a little wash-and-fold service out of their homes.

Normalcy

Suzy: I guess I don’t know how to start the routine without feeling guilty because so many people cannot do their routines.

Brian: It’s very dislocating for the boys. They don’t know what to think.

We are trying to control the experience as best we can. A lot of parents are much more challenged than we are. If you are in the convention center and have lost your house, it’s hard to keep that same outlook.

Suzy: When the kids start school, I will be volunteering. Anyone with a heart is going to volunteer.

Suzy and Brian are still in their home and slowly getting back to normal.

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Karen Eubank

Karen is the owner of Eubank Staging and Design. She has been an award-winning professional home stager for more than 25 years and a professional writer for over 20 years. Karen is the mother of a son who’s studying for his masters at The New England Conservatory of Music. An ardent animal lover, she doesn’t mind one bit if your fur baby jumps right into her lap.

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