Hurricane Harvey – Day 4

Fun fact: Hurricane’s are awful.

In my last post, I talked about the preparations Gulf Coast residents are taught to take during hurricanes. When hurricanes/tropical storms have previously rolled through town, I was a child, so all I needed to be concerned about was keeping safe and staying with my family. In those instances, the preparations we were taught were very helpful, however, I don’t think they prepared me for living through this storm as an adult.

Many additional preparations have been added to my hurricane checklist over the past few days :

  • What will you do if your area goes through a mandatory evacuation? You still have a choice to stay, as they cannot force you to leave your home, which would you choose?
  • You can’t take your pet(s) to most shelters? If you evacuate but can’t take your animal, how will you get back to them?
  • What will you bring with you knowing that, when you return, your house may have taken on water of an unknown depth for an unknown length of time?
  • If water does come into your house, what is most likely to be damaged? Can any of that be moved higher ground to reduce material casualties? Are any electrical systems close to the ground that are likely to be damaged by incoming water? Can rugs be removed, rolled up, and stored on higher ground? Is there anything in your garage (common location for cardboard box storage), that will be needed during repairs and therefore need to be moved to higher ground now?
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My cat, Clooney, using my tower of rolled up carpets as his throne.

For the series of questions pertaining to water coming into your house, nobody tells you that you may not have much time to prepare these things. If you’re told you need to leave your house due to a mandatory evacuation, you are maybe given a few hours to run through this checklist before you need to leave your home; at which point, you won’t know when you’ll be returning to survey the damage.

We’re not taught that if you are making these decisions for the first time in your life, you will experience an unexpected amount of stress and anxiety about whether your picking the right things to save, how you’ll pay for things if/when they get damaged, and how you’ll need to start repairs to your house once you get back. You know you have friends you can stay with while your house is getting repaired but, if your cars been totaled due to high flood waters, how are you going to get there? How long are the repairs going to take? Do you have flood insurance to cover the damages as most homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover damages due to flooding?

I am one of the lucky ones; I have parents to help me through this. I am alone, stranded on an almost literal island, but my house still has power, so I can keep charging my phone to contact my parents who can talk me through a lot of this. I couldn’t fall asleep last night because I kept looking out the window to check the water level in the street, then obsessively checking my phone to see how many more inches of rain were expected to fall that night. Thousands of people in the Houston Metropolitan Area right now don’t have that luxury.

Water didn’t come into my house last night, though most of yesterday was spent agonizing over if/when it would. The water on my street is almost 3ft deep now. I’ve never been so happy to live on a block where the houses are raised that much from street level.

People keep texting me. Family members and friends keep checking in to see how things are going and whether I’m safe.  I appreciate the thought but feel obligated to respond within minutes so nobody starts worrying about whether something has happened to me.

The photos and videos online showing the damage of the storm so far aren’t lying, they aren’t showing you isolated incidents. Those images show what a large part of Houston looks like right now.

As the storm winds down, we start considering what to do next. We now have to deal with the aftermath. The cleanup and repair efforts will be expensive and time consuming, but we will get through this. I will help however I can. I am one of the lucky ones so, when I can leave my house, I will go to those who need help. This is the time to step up and come together.

 

Off to a Great Start…

Orientation for my PhD program was scheduled to be from Aug. 21-25; all day, every day. Unfortunately, this being Texas and all, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25 as a Category 3 hurricane with winds topping 120 mph. The center of Harvey hit many miles south of Houston, near Corpus Christi, Texas (a place with beautiful beaches when it’s not being pummeled by a hurricane). What they often don’t tell you in the headlines is that the size of these storms spans entire states, sometimes more than one. Harvey is currently taking up most of the Texas coastline, and the entire Lousiana coastline.

I have lived in Texas for a very long time. I was born and raised here, moved away for college, then moved back to start my adult life. I have seen many storms come through this area. I witnessed (from a distance) the devastation of Katrina and helped with the relief efforts afterward. I’ve lived through multiple tropical storms and was out of school for 10 days thanks to Hurricane Ike.

I know how to board up my windows and stock up on food in case the power goes out. I keep flashlights and candles within arms reach so I’ll have a way to see around my house in the dark. I have a stock of water bottles and fill all spare plastic containers with tap water, to be later purified in case the water gets contaminated/cut off.

I know all of these things because I grew up here and I’ve lived through these storms.

Previously, when one of these storms has ripped through, it’s one terrible night when you hope and pray that the flood waters don’t get into your house and the trees/power lines don’t fall into your house. You only have to make it through one night. The next day, you can leave your house, survey the damage, and start the clean-up efforts. Harvey isn’t like that.

The rain from Harvey started falling on Friday afternoon. It’s now Sunday afternoon and, depending on which weather predictions you watch, we’re not even halfway through. Harvey is unique because the storm moved inland, stayed, and is projected to move back towards the gulf, only to change direction and head straight for west Houston, meaning the rain will keep falling until Tuesday or Wednesday, if not longer.

I live in a suburb just south of Houston and we’ve gotten at least 14″ of rain already. The streets are now flooded to the point where the only ways to get out are by boat or helicopter. I am in constant contact with my parents and friends in other parts of the area. They all seem to be faring better than me, but those are only the ones I’m in current contact with. I know I could go to them if I had to evacuate, I’d just have to find a way to get there.

As the rain continues to fall and the street flooding gets closer to my front door, I hold my breath and pray for the rain to stop, and for the flooding to have the smallest chance to drain. I’ve never seen it this bad before.

I have a suitcase packed, in case the neighborhood gets evacuated. I have a plan for how to get my cat out, though I don’t know if he’d even cooperate. Bottom line, I am scared. This is the first time I’ve been scared of a hurricane. It’s no longer even a hurricane; it’s been down-graded to a tropical storm, but that doesn’t make me feel any more safe.

I have to keep counting my blessings: I still have power (i.e. Netflix), food, water, my cat, and people to call when I need someone to talk to. My situation isn’t as bad as many of those riding out the storm with me, but that doesn’t add much comfort.

I have a plan to get out if the water gets into the house, but that plan is dependent on someone coming to rescue me. I’ve never been the damsel in distress before; I don’t like the feeling.

I am crossing my fingers, saying many prayers, holding my breath, and doing the best that I can. We will get through this, we always do.