Life Changes Overnight
Surviving Hurricane Harvey
The week of August 21, 2017 started with simple pleasures. My kids started back to school and were full of tales of watching the eclipse and getting re-acquainted with classmates. At the house, my husband was finishing a renovation on our house by putting new shelving and equipment in the laundry room. I was consumed with some issues at work and worried about the outcome. By the end of the week, we were homeless and displaced and all priorities had shifted. What happened in between was Hurricane Harvey. This story is still unfolding. As I sit and write this today, it is still raining and the forecast calls for continued rain for the next few days.
Four years ago we moved back to my hometown of Houston for a new job and to be near family. We bought a home in a beautiful neighborhood that was one street away from a bayou that had a biking and running path along it. We loved the schools, the neighbors and the location. Over the last year, we did some renovations to make the house feel like ours.
At first, the warnings of Hurricane Harvey barely registered. It was supposed to be a moderate storm that would hit Mexico and dissipate — maybe we would get some rain from it. Then the forecasts changed. Now it was a Category 3 and then 4 storm headed straight for Texas. I still wasn’t concerned at that point. I’ve been through hurricanes before and I know the drill. Our house was 48 years old and had never flooded.
But Harvey is unique — this is an unprecedented storm. By the time it reached Houston, the threat was not wind — the threat was relentless and heavy rain that has stalled out over the city. By Friday, school and work were cancelled. We were getting constant emergency warnings about flooding and tornadoes, but we still weren’t seeing too much to worry about in our neighborhood. By Saturday evening, all of the retaining ponds and lakes and bayous and ditches had filled up and started overflowing their banks. About 9:00 Saturday night, we started to get concerned as the water continued to move up our street toward the house. We started moving valuables upstairs. By 1:00 am Sunday morning, the water started coming into the house. Our house that had never flooded — our newly remodeled home — was flooding.
We retreated upstairs — four people and two cats — and listened to the water come into the house. It came through the doors and windows and seeped in through the foundation. There was a spot from inside our built-in cabinet in the family room where it gurgled and bubbled as it came in. We had to turn off the power, so we sat in the dark and worried. We waited and listened until dawn. As it got light, we looked outside and saw nothing but water everywhere and it was still raining. The water outside was up to the bottom of our mailbox at the street and up above the wheels of our two cars parked at the highest point in our driveway. Inside of the house, we could see 2–3 feet of water lapping at the bottom of our stairs.
We knew we needed to get out. We called my parents who live 10 miles away (thank goodness for cell phones) and were relieved to hear that they were okay and had not flooded. So now, we needed to figure out how to get out of the house and make our way to my parents’ home. The news was filled with images of the flood, street closures, danger zones and continued heavy rain. We did not know what we were facing on the hike out or on the roads. We decided we could only focus on people, so we gave the cats lots of food and water and left them on the second floor.
We each filled one backpack with essentials — phones, a change of clothes, medicines, etc. and waded out. Last spring we put up a new wooden fence and, on a whim, added a gate between our backyard and the yard of the neighbors on the next street. Our kids were friends and it made it easier to get back and forth without running around the end of the block. That gate might have saved our lives — the water in our backyard was shallower than in the front. I’m not sure we could have gotten out through the front of our house with the rapidly rising water.
“Our couches and belongings were floating in a surreal parody of our home.”
As we started, we stepped down our stairs into cold, dirty, mid-thigh high water and waded through the house. Our couches and belongings were floating in a surreal parody of our home. We had to push items out of the way to make it to the back door and cross through our yard to the magic gate. We hiked across the neighborhood skirting deep spots and staying close to the houses. Finally we hit the end of the flood area and made our way to the home of friends. They welcomed us, fed us and lent us a car. We managed to drive through heavy rains to my parents’ house — with a few detours around flooded roads.
The world has shifted for us. The unthinkable has happened. We don’t know what will happen next. But Hurricane Harvey has certainly clarified my priorities. Work worries and physical stuff no longer matter. We are safe.