It’s six months removed from Hurricane Harvey visiting the quaint little city of Houston, and we thought it would be a good time to remember our experiences and share what it was like for us during one of the more stressful times in recent memory.
Now, Libby and I had both been in hurricanes previously. Libby has here for Hurricane Rita. She and her family spent over 16 hours in the world’s biggest traffic jam outside of a normal weekday on the M25. I had a very different experience with Rita. After Houston, it turned north to Dallas, where I was living at the time. My friend and I took it as a great opportunity to drink hurricanes in a hurricane at the Hurricane Grill. Without question, the best hurricane I’d had the pleasure of being in! Later, the year after moving to Houston, I was here for Hurricane Ike, and it was not nearly as fun. Two days without running water was less than ideal.
The thing that struck me the most about the storm was how quickly it escalated. It seemed like Tuesday we were aware a tropical storm was moving up from the Gulf of Mexico and that might have been the first time I was aware of it. Next thing you know, it’s a category 4 hurricane headed right for us! Here was the forecast:
I mean, we had so little time to prepare for it and there was a run on pretty much all groceries at the store.
When the storm hit Thursday, it was just like a heavy thunderstorm. I mean there was a lot of wind and rain, but nothing exceptional or particularly menacing. Then it didn’t stop… It rained all day Thursday… and Friday… and Saturday… and Sunday. Our friends and family called us during this time as the storm hovered in one spot just west of us for four days, dropping over a meter (more than three feet) of rain on us!
We survived the rain though with flying colours. Our house was fine. Our streets were dry. We didn’t lose power. We didn’t lose the internet or TV. The boys were entertained, if a bit stir crazy. We were doing ok. Libby’s brother and I even snuck out in his truck with a huge lift and made it to a local fast food restaurant, where we ran into FEMA relief workers who came from around the country.
Then Sunday night happened…
The biggest problem that we had wasn’t the rain, but when the runoff from a 1-in-1000 year flood event began to overwhelm the reservoir. Buffalo Bayou, which our neighbourhood drains into, began to back up. When the reservoir filled to capacity, the water had nowhere to go but upstream. It was this back up that began to flood our neighbourhood. On Sunday night, we saw the water begin to rise and flood our street. By sheer dumb luck, our house happened to be on one of the highest points on our street.
That night we saw the water begin to creep up our driveway.
By the next morning, the water had risen several feet and was up to our front porch. The fire hydrant by the street was no longer visible. Monday was an extremely nervous time for us. Like many people, we didn’t have flood insurance. Why would we? We weren’t on a known flood plain, much less in one of the 1-in-500 year flood plains that would have been an automatic, of-course-we-want-insurance decisions.
That day, the rain stopped or at least ebbed. Our neighbours began to step outside and yell to each other from our little islands. The water was waist deep in the middle of the street and full of snakes and critters and other nasty things so you didn’t want to get in.
The National Guard came and evacuated some of our neighbours.
We decided to wait it out… one of the… heaviest (is the word that comes to mind) decisions that we’ve had to make. This was probably the lowest part for us. Our downstairs toilets began backing up. We were very anxious. We just sat there glued to the television and occasionally going to check if the water was up to our front door.
As a quick side note, I remember a few stories from this time, both good and bad:
- The Cajun Navy coming to help rescue people trapped in the flood waters, despite being shot at a few times
- The incredible amount of relief money J.J. Watt raised for Houston
- Mattress Mack lending help during and following the storm
I remember being very pleased with the way Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner carried himself during this period. He had a calming influence on the city during this time that I was very impressed with. I also remember seeing constant updates from this man, Jeff Lindner, from the Harris County Flood Control District:
When he came on, he would explain in a steady, matter-of-fact manner exactly how we were screwed. He would explain how the reservoirs were in danger of being overwhelmed and which areas were experiencing catastrophic flooding and where to go. Somehow, these no-bullshit answers were calming, like at least we knew what we were dealing with. I was glad to have him for Harris County during this time.
On Tuesday, it was Jeff delivered the first positive news, well at least for us. They had to release water from the reservoir downstream of us to protect the reservoir from being destroyed. Practically, this meant two things: first, our neighbourhood would start draining, like pulling the plug on a bathtub. Secondly, the neighbourhoods around the reservoir would be flooded. We felt really conflicted about this, relief with a tinge of guilt. I mean, on one hand we knew that they took the risk building next to a flood control dam, but we would only drain because they would be flooded.
That night, the waters begin to recede. By the time we woke up the next morning, the water was down to our street. I walked to our mother-in-law’s house and saw her for the first time in a week. By the end of the day, we were dry, as if nothing happened.
We checked on our neighbours. As it turned out, the houses on either side of us flooded. Some houses across the street had water enter their houses. By sheer dumb luck and not by any foresight on our part, we were in the high spot and remained dry throughout.
Harvey was a trying time. I felt so lucky to have been in Houston during this time, because I can only imagine what a wreck Libby and I would have been if this had happened while I was in Kazakhstan. I believe we will look back as the nervous time we dodged a major bullet.
Thanks for listening, and we hope you’re doing well!
Derek, Libby, Duke, and Earl