Capturing Hope in Houston

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I am writing this entry from a somber, crippled, but incredibly unified place, Houston, Texas.  For the last several days Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on my city and most of the Gulf Coast. My family, friends and I spent Thursday checking in on our loved ones in Corpus Christi, Rockport, Port Aransas, and other coastal areas that were going to take Harvey’s brutal, direct hit; making sure they were either evacuated or ‘Hunkered Down’.

We prayed for their safety while we leisurely went to the store to get water, propane, non-perishable food items and ice to fill our coolers and gas to fill our cars, just in case we lost power for a few days. Houstonians in low-lying areas packed up and left as a precaution for what we knew would be a ‘rain event’.  We watched the weather on numerous stations, checked our weather apps and did exactly what we were told to do, but we were not prepared for this. No one was prepared for this; not even weather experts.

On Friday we continued watching the devastating coverage and checking to make sure loved ones were safe. We began to realize that the “dirty side” of the storm was going to be a bit more “dirty” than expected, so we made additional last-minute preparations.

By Saturday, we were watching Harvey’s rain bands grow in size and we realized we had long days ahead of us. Before 8:00 p.m. that night it started raining and by 9:00 p.m., the proverbial flood gates had opened and streets were already holding water. We heard a huge ‘BOOM’ and 2 city blocks went dark. By 11:00 p.m., the streets surrounding the area I live in were impassable in places. Cars were stalled out and people were wading in water to get to higher ground or to get home. The severe-weather alerts on our phones and televisions sounded every 10 minutes or less. We watched the weather map marking our area with a long, wide band of red and hoped it would pass by quickly. We went to bed praying the worst would be over in the morning.

Upon waking up at 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning, we learned that our city was flooding. Media inundated us with the images of people wading through waist and chest deep water with trash bags in hand, holding the only belongings they could grab before leaving their homes. Meteorologists knew the rain was not going to stop and we were in for a flood event that could be historical. The rain continued to fall.

All of Sunday was spent glued to our television as we were some of the fortunate ones that did not have water in our home and still had power. Press conferences from Mayor Sylvester Turner and Governor Greg Abbott saying to stay in place and educating us on the rescue and evacuations plans that were (and still are) in motion.

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The images are unforgettable; elderly people waiting out a rescue in waist-deep water; people floating their children and animals down the street on air mattresses; tears of sadness and joy when people reached higher ground. Then came more emergency alerts; this time they were not just flash flood warnings, but tornado warnings. Images and videos of tornadoes touching down all over began to flood our screens. So, we listened constantly for that ‘train’ sound and prepared ourselves to jump into the closet under our stairs at a moment’s notice.

Social media was inundated with information and photos of friends camped out with their entire families in the bathroom for hours. Photos of houses filling with water quickly and notices that families were moving upstairs or into the attic kept crossing my feed. This continued all day long.

By Sunday evening, the only sounds coming from our street was rain hitting the water that had risen to approximately 4 feet deep and sirens from first responders taking calls. The scene from the second story of my small condo looked as though we had river-front property; the water was rushing.

Monday morning brought calls and texts for help from those still in their homes with water rising. My text alert sounding over and over again with photos of devastation and pleas from friends needing help getting either themselves or loved ones a rescue boat; most from areas that had never experienced street flooding, let alone their homes taking in water. It was heart wrenching, as we were flooded in; there was nothing we could do other than support one another on social media and share the phone numbers the City had set up. We felt helpless.

As the Monday hours crept by at a snail’s pace with rain continuing to fall in record amounts, we had to do something, so we emptied our closets and drawers of clothing, shoes, towels, blankets, and toiletries and got them packed up and ready to take to the shelters whenever we could get out safely to do so. The flash flood alerts, tornado warnings and emergency alerts continued to sound; over and over and over again.

The rescue efforts continued, but it wasn’t only first responders and the Coast Guard; our fellow Houstonians, Texans and neighbors from as close to Louisiana and as far as Kentucky were arriving with boats, jet skis and high water vehicles to help. The City of Houston welcomed them with open arms. City officials called for anyone that was safely able to lend a hand to do so. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming; the sites of strangers helping strangers without hesitation has created a heartwarming emotional overload and it keeps coming.

As of Wednesday, August 30, 2017 (according to Axios.com), over 15 trillion gallons of rain have fallen in Texas and 5 trillion more are anticipated before the storm completely moves out. The Houston Chronicle estimates over $50 billion in damage. Since Tuesday night, there have been over 13,000 rescues in Houston and the surrounding areas. There are over 30,000 people displaced across more than 230 shelters and 215,000 students out of school.

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The devastation is unbelievable, but the love in this 6.6 million person community and all along the Gulf Coast is even more incredible. It’s implausible to see such a diverse city come together as one. It’s incredible to see the love and support pouring in from all over the world.

As the sun peaks out after days and days of cloud cover, pouring rain, and floods that have literally changed the face of Houston; we feel hope. We will overcome! We will rebuild! And we will do it together. We are Houston Strong! We are Texas Strong! Our thoughts and prayers are with our neighbors to our east in Louisiana as Harvey makes his second landfall; we are here for you too!

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