An update on our Hurricane Harvey situation:
First things first: we made it through the night when our part of town got hit the worst. Harvey is so big, and has moved so slowly over Houston, that literally no part of the Houston area has been spared. Having lived here all my life, I have family and friends spread out all over the place, and as it has turned out so far, every one of us has had a “turn” at being in the worst possible location on a given day. The first night of the storm, it was my brother out in Dickinson watching the water creep up to his door and seeing helicopters rescue his neighbors. The second night, it was my friend in Katy, who had the same situation as my brother the night before with an added crisis of two rescuers getting trapped in a tree and having to be rescued themselves. Then yesterday, it was my turn, when around 4 PM our county judge changed the voluntary evacuation notice in our neighborhood to a mandatory one. Up until that moment, I was fairly calm about our situation, although that water creeping up our front walk was making me progressively more nervous throughout the day.
In our case, the mandatory evacuation was called because the levee that surrounds our neighborhood, and that has kept us flood-free for thirty or forty years, had a valve that malfunctioned when a nearby creek overflowed into it. Ironically, our levee system was “improved” after the Tax Day Flood of 2015, which sounded like a good idea until it got tested this weekend and failed. Our street didn’t flood in 2015, before these ‘improvements.’ During Hurricane Harvey, it did – along with most of the neighborhood. Needless to say, this is going to be a huge problem for whomever did that work moving forward, because they clearly screwed up something that was working fine before they got their tools on it. Moving on.
Once the county saw what was happening, they called for a mandatory evacuation, but the problem was that by that time most of us could not leave. Yes, our neighborhood generally is flood-free, but everything around us floods in storm situations, and we become an island. Because of how safe we’ve always been here, barely anyone responded to the voluntary evacuation, and were suddenly faced with taking pretty epic measures to get out when it switched to mandatory. For Doug and I, it wasn’t really possible for us to leave; we have four pets, and two small compact cars; unless you had an SUV or a big truck you weren’t going to make it out of our neighborhood. And, once you got out, there wasn’t much of anywhere to go. By this time, the shelters in our area had filled up, and there were even people who’d evacuated to shelters in the area only to find the shelter filling up with water, and having to evacuate again. We weighed our options, moved our stuff to the second floor of our house, and decided to take our chances.
All evening long the news was fixated on our area; specifically, on our very street. Reporters were a mere block or two away from us, filming people in waist-deep water being hoisted into boats to escape the encroaching floodwaters. They were squinting through the heavy rain that had been falling non-stop for 24 hours (our poor dogs were about to bust before they’d go outside and relieve themselves; i finally had to let them poop in the garage) and ominously saying things like, “If you live in this area, this is no time to take chances…you need to GET OUT NOW.” All evening long, we could hear helicopters overhead and airboats in the slowly rising rivers our streets had become. I was a wreck. We’d stocked up on food, we had everything we needed moved to the second floor, and fortunately, as the evening turned into night we discovered that most of our neighbors had also stayed and we were not, in fact, going to be all alone drowning in our own poor choices. We would all go down together, it seemed, and that helped. Still, I admit to breaking down in tears at one point, just from the sheer stress of the situation. I finally understood what my brother had been going through on his long dark night of the storm, and my friend the previous night. I texted with everyone I knew throughout the night for comfort, and kept posting on the neighborhood Facebook group that sprung up that morning when the first voluntary evacuation was ordered, created for people who were choosing to stay.
We placed a rock at the waterline on our front walk and checked it every hour. For several hours, it rose about 12 inches each time. Then, around 10:30 or so, we went to check it and noticed it had only risen about half that. Then, it seemed to stop. It was about that time the county judge, who’d called for the mandatory evacuation, had a Facebook live press conference and explained that the malfunctioning valve had been temporarily fixed, and that the levee was pumping out water again. As soon as we heard this, my husband and I ran out to the walkway to check our little rock, and sure enough – it had gone down about an inch. We celebrated in the rain like maniacs, and held our breath the rest of the night, forcing ourselves to wait an hour before going out and checking again lest we get too obsessive about it. Each time we checked throughout the night and into Monday morning, it had gone down a bit more.
All through the day today, it’s been draining, and as of 6 PM there’s no water standing in our stretch of the street. But many areas of the neighborhood are still flooded, and the very unfortunate people who live in the areas the news media was filming yesterday due to the extent of the flooding where they were got water in their house – some as much as three feet. When out walking around this evening to take some more photos, I encountered a couple who were venturing onto their street for the first time since evacuation, and when they told me where they lived I regret that they could see on my face what I knew they would find. I’m sure they already knew to expect the worst, but my heart really broke for them. I grew up much closer to Galveston, in an area that flooded badly in tropical storms and hurricanes, and our house flooded three times that I can recall, so I know what a disaster that is to deal with. We have a little disaster of our own to handle now, because our roof, which we got replaced after Hurricane Ike, leaked like a bitch for some reason and ruined a lot of drywall and carpet. But what we’ve got to repair is nothing compared to the nightmare of having a flooded house, and obviously, in this storm, so many, many people have lost everything, included houses, belongings, and cars – not to mention lives – that I am not complaining. We even somehow miraculously never lost power, which has never happened to me during a hurricane or tropical storm (with Ike, we were without power for four days during August, and it was torturous). Oh, and Doug’s father’s house had a tree fall on it, too, so he’s got to deal with that also (no one was harmed). But still, our troubles are small compared to most people right now.
Interestingly, for the first time ever I find myself feeling attached to this house. I don’t know, I got so nervous about losing it, somehow, and even felt like it protected us really well, in spite of all the leaky ceilings and walls, and I sort of promised myself that if this house protected us and got us through this thing safely, I would stop taking it for granted and appreciate it more, and maybe even start to really take care of it better. I’ve never been one to care much about my surroundings, as long as I have a roof and a bed I really don’t care what things look like or where it is, but the last few years I’ve been wishing either that this house looked nicer, or we could sell it and buy a new one that already looked nice (because the idea of fixing up an old house doesn’t excite me IN THE LEAST). But when Doug and I were talking about all the repairs we were going to have to do, and he said we needed to just get this thing fixed up quickly and move, I felt a little pang of resistance at the idea. I think he sensed it, because he followed that up by saying that we could put some real money into it and fix it up properly and sink all our money into it and stay, and I perked up a little at that thought. I couldn’t tell if he perked up, too, or was just saying that to see what how I felt about it, but now isn’t time to make all those decisions anyway. But maybe. The idea of going through the moving process has never EVER thrilled me in the least, so I could be encouraged to stay here for sure. But in the end, I’m not sure it’s the best idea.
Anyway, now we just have to survive the Brazos River going over its banks, which is supposed to happen sometime tonight or tomorrow, but as long as our levee holds, which it should now, we will be OK. We just may not be able to get anywhere for several days, but this house has taken care of us so far, as has the neighborhood, so I think we’ll be good.
Edited to add: Catherine asked about donations, and while displaced people will need clothing and food, etc. those things have to come locally for now due to the flooding all over the area. However, should you want to donate financially, our mayor has set up a fund here: Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.