I drove through Hurricane Harvey to pick up my medicine. This is what it was like.
I normally wear glasses, but today it doesn’t matter. Rain pelts the window like BB bullets and the wind howls around us like we’re surrounded by a pack of wolves. Visibility is a joke. I have to trust my friend, Devon, who’s driving the big truck my little brother and I are in.
I’m in his debt. He planned to do nothing but binge Game of Thrones today, but when I told him I was out of my medication — anti-depressants and insomnia pills — he stepped up and offered to drive us to Walmart. My little brother is buying water. When our power goes out — it’s not a matter of if, but when — he wants to be prepared. Smart move.
I go to college in Beaumont, Texas. We aren’t Harvey’s first victim — Corpus Christi, Galveston, and Houston suffered the worst and they’re still reeling. But Harvey’s far from finished.
For the last few days, we’ve received unending severe flash flood warnings, tornado warnings, and road closure notifications, and according to NPR, Beaumont is expected to bear the brunt of Harvey’s damage as it angles toward Louisiana.
Most of my friends who had the means to leave have already left. I’m stuck here with no transportation out and limited food. But the last thing I can go without is my medication.
When we first set out, our jokes about Hurricane Harvey somehow being related to Steve Harvey are funny. The rain is heavy but manageable. This isn’t too different from a regular trip in the rain.
That all changes when we turn onto the highway. A fire truck barrels past us, lights flaring, horn blaring, ripping through the water like a sledgehammer on wheels. It’s far from the only emergency vehicle on the road.
It gets less funny the longer we drive.
Gusts of rain are so big and fierce they look like giant phantoms flying down the highway. Parking lots are lakes. Grassy fields with trees look like Louisiana marshes. What were once tiny dips in the road we wouldn’t have thought about on any other day are now death traps that ensnare all but the biggest vehicles.
Many cars double back against the flow of traffic to avoid stalling out. I think it’s reckless when I first see it, but I didn’t know we’d be one of them later. I thank my lucky stars we’re in a truck.
Not that we’re invincible. We almost stall several times. The water roars and leaps on the hood, blinding us and shaking the bottom of the car. I can feel the rumble through my soaking shoes.
As we power through, I tense my body. I feel like I’m part of the machine. The wheels are my arms and legs and I’m barely keeping my head above the water. We leave a wake behind us like a motorboat. In fact, the water is so high I could crack the window, stick my arm out, and skim the water with my fingertips.
The carnage I see is no surprise. I live in the Houston area, and although I left before the hurricane hit, I’ve stayed in touch with my family and I’ve followed the news. It looks like the apocalypse.
Highways underwater, stranded 18-wheelers poking their backs up like crocodiles on the prowl, people clambering out of their car windows to reach their roofs and shout for help — I’ve seen all this, but seeing and experiencing are two different things.
Like a mob boss that comes first for your family and then says, “you’re next,” Harvey is here. And it ain’t pretty.
When we reach the Walmart, we jump out and rush the door. It’s locked. You’ve got to be kidding me.
My brother has a poncho, I have a trash bag I poked holes in. I’m about as well protected as you’d think.
By the time we reach the other entrance, none of it matters. We’re both soaked to the bone and shaking like plucked guitar strings in the cool AC.
We split up — him to get the water, me to get my prescriptions.
Despite my initial concerns that they might not fill my order, the lady behind the counter says it’ll be ready for pickup in 20 minutes.
What am I supposed to do until then?
I head to the umbrella aisle. It’s a bust. All they have left are snub-nose umbrellas. Remember how they took king-sized candy bars and turned them into “fun-sized”? These are fun-sized umbrellas. They couldn’t fend off a drizzle and they sure as shit won’t help in a hurricane. Not to mention the wind will rip them inside out.
Next I try to the raincoat section. To my surprise, they still have some left.
But they’re all extra small kid sizes. Looks like I’ll stick with my trash bag.
A couple minutes later, the PA system announces my prescription is ready for pickup and I run to the pharmacy, sneakers squishing every step.
The rain is hitting harder now. It’s practically dumping water in solid blocks.
I make it to the pharmacy just in time. I’m the last one they’re allowing to pick up today. Something about an emergency. The metal grate is literally closing behind them as I swipe my card.
My brother returns with the waters. Devon calls. “It’s getting really bad,” he says. “We need to get our asses out here. Now.”
My brother and I check out as fast as possible — which isn’t very fast when most of the lines are closed and the self-checkout lanes display error messages.
We dash to the car, clamber in, and head for home.
“You owe me big time,” Devon says.
“I know,” I say. I mean it too. Ditching Game of Thrones isn’t something I would do on a good day, let alone to drive through a hurricane — not to mention a catastrophic, record-breaking doozy like this one. This dude deserves all the kudos.
The ride back is almost the same as the ride there. Tense. Little talking. Lots of scanning the road for obstacles and oceans pretending to be harmless puddles.
At one point, we have to cross a part of the highway that’s so deep in water we have to transform into a duck boat to pass through, and the truck driving at a snail’s pace in front of us isn’t helping.
“Goddammit,” Devon says. “His truck is higher than mine. He won’t flood at this speed, but if we can’t get out of this soon, we will.”
The atmosphere in the car goes from tense to taut like a bowstring. We slog through the mire. Slow. Too slow. Rain blankets us. The windshield looks like a warped gray mirror. Our tires churn up highway soup.
That’s what it looks like — soup — but instead of cooked carrots and chunks of potatoes, it’s wilted bags of trash and scraps of trees that look like pulled pork.
When we reach our campus, the regular lane leading into the dorm parking lot is flooded. We have to drive on the opposite side of the road. It’s one lane thick. I hope no one comes down this way while we’re here.
My hopes go unanswered, but my worries are unfounded. It’s lineman’s truck. We pull onto a small shoulder, and as he passes us, Devon waves at him. The man waves back. It’s the gesture of acknowledgment people give each other in times of distress. It says, “Look at this shit storm we’re in together. Stay safe.”
Devon drops us off while he finds a parking spot that won’t fill up and flood his truck.
We unload our bags and run to the dorm as fast as possible. My little brother, over eager to get warm and dry, underestimates the depth of water he’s about to run through.
If he ended up hurt, I would feel bad for laughing when he trips and belly flops into a giant puddle. But he doesn’t, so I don’t.
We finish running inside while spectators on the opposite dorm hall’s balcony yell, “Damn, y’all got it good!”
The security guard inside looks at us in disbelief. She can’t believe we went through a hurricane to pick up, well, anything really. To be honest, neither can I. It seems kind of ridiculous.
As I write this, safe and warm and dry, I remind myself that it could’ve been worse. In the coming days, it probably will be. While my family and I are lucky enough to be safe for now, this is far from over.
Texas is going to need a lot of support to get back on its feet. Prayers and positive thoughts are great, but if you really want to help, please follow the links below to donate. Thank y’all for reading. Share, share, share! And stay safe!
- American Red Cross. To make a financial donation, visit the their website, call 1.800.RED CROSS or text HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation for those in need.
- Catholic Charities of USA. To make a financial donation, visit CCUSA’s disaster-specific website or text 71777 to make a donation.
- Global Giving. To make a financial donation, visit their website or text HARVEY to 80100 to donate $10 to Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
- Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has established the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that will accept tax deductible donations. The fund is administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity. To make a financial donation, visit the GHCF website.
- United Way of Greater Houston has established a Flood Relief Fund to help with recovery needs of those most impacted. To give to the United Way Flood Relief Fund, visit unitedwayhouston.org/floodor text UWFLOOD to 41444.