(Above: Not sure exactly who to give photo credit too. I use it as an example of the height of the flood waters)
When I found out Harvey was imminent, I downloaded a mobile game called Empire. It’s one of those games where you build a kingdom from the ground up. I thought, well, if I get stranded here I can at least play this mindless game. I jokingly named myself “Hurricane Harvey.” This is the first and only game I’ve ever downloaded on my phone, nor do I own any sort of console, or play any sort of games. Not even board games.
That was Friday (8/25/17) evening.
I woke Saturday morning (7 am) to a rolling river where my street used to be. After seeing that I immediately ran into the back yard, peered over the back fence and looked into the drainage easement behind my house. It was just about to crest and start flowing into my yard.
By some great miracle, it stayed that way for about three hours. Then we got a break, and in thirty minutes the drainage easement dropped two feet and the street turned back into a street, at least in the middle.
That three hours was a long, stressful time period. We don’t have flood insurance because we are not in the flood zone and the house we bought had never flooded (built in ’76). But I was worried, all the while telling my wife we would be fine and not to worry.
The drainage easement and the street did that a couple more times, but the water never rose into the house or really even into our yard.
We were fortunate. I’ve been in Houston for Allison, Ike, Rita, and some historic flooding last year during winter rains. Never in my life have I seen anything like what Harvey did.
As I witnessed all of my friend’s homes going under, some all the way up their roof lines, saw countless cars under water, and viewed the damage of the tornados, suddenly the game I downloaded as a light hearted way of coping with the possibility of being stuck in the house for a couple of days seemed a touch indelicate.
And it just kept getting worse, new roads were flooding every hour. Thirty percent of all the land in Houston was under water. The reservoirs became so full that the only way to keep the dams from bursting was to release the water at a rate of 7900 gallons per second, which in turn caused even more flooding – but it potentially saved the city from the dams bursting and sending a wall of water 100 feet high into neighborhoods.
The rain lasted about 5 days. During that time we, my wife and I never saw a break longer than that initial 3 hour break. In fact, it rained non-stop most days. Literally non-stop.
We occupied our time by cooking for neighbors, or neighbors cooking for us. We all just tried to take care of one another the best way we knew. We were on an island, all of the surrounding streets, and houses were flooded. We couldn’t drive more than a mile or two away – and that was after the initial rains had subsided and allowed some of the streets to drain. Before that both ends of my street were flooded up to the houses, or in them.
By Sunday, my neighbor and I were ready to find some more food. We thought – let’s just cook all day and then invite anyone who can make it. Sunday morning we set off, hoping some of the roads’ water had gone down and a grocery store might be open. We drove down to W. Belfort and a store was open, we were excited until we saw the line about 100 people deep, standing in the rain, waiting to get in. We both looked at each other and said, “Let’s keep going.” We didn’t want to buy food and keep someone desperate enough to stand in rain for hours from having it. After all, I still had a few days’ worth of beef jerky and Kind bars. Not to mention 5 pounds of rice. I knew we’d be fine and I didn’t want to take from others.
We drove down the street to the next grocery store – it was also open, but again, a huge line. This line was even bigger, though. So we drove on.
While driving it was impossible not to feel like we were survivors of some sort of Armageddon. The previously submerged cars were so heavily lined on the streets they looked like colored sprinkles on a cake. All of them touching others or having been hit by others. Some of them in ditches, turned over, or full of river debris like thick water grass or piles of soot. Most of the traffic lights didn’t work, except for a few that were blinking red. Nothing was open or even close to it (except for those grocery stores, which I’m sure saved lives). We continued to drive, hoping to find a store open that wasn’t overcome by a line, and had just a few items we could work with to help feed our neighbors. We finally came upon a grocery store that appeared open and had no line. We parked in a non-parking spot because there were no spaces left. We went in with our grocery bags and began to load up. It was amazing! We had found THE place to get groceries right now. I even found a chocolate bar for my wife.
About 10 minutes into our shopping, after I had loaded up my bag with pork ribs, almond milk, and everything in between, about 8 cops showed up. They rushed the place and ordered us to drop our bags.
One guy was a bit of a douche and no matter how we responded just kept getting madder if we asked a question. Another cop spoke above him to let us know the store had been broken into and was a victim of looting.
The crazy part is, when we walked in, there was complete order. One of the registers was on, and a guy stood behind it talking to a guy with groceries in front of it. Nothing was out of order in the store, not a single food item. It’s as if one person broke in and quietly took a few things before the rest of us showed up with our families and grocery bags to stroll through the aisles as if the store was open. Guy must have been smart. He took the time to turn on a register light, all of the store lights, and even uncovered the produce and such.
After that experience we received notifications from our wives that we were under another flash flood warning. Almost as soon as we received it, the rain picked back up to storm levels and we decided to cut our losses and return home.
We spent the next two days stuck on our little island, hoping the rain wouldn’t rise further, as it was for many around us, and trying not to go stir-crazy. At about 10 am on Wednesday, the water on 610 by the galleria had cleared and I was able to get to my day job (shoemaking doesn’t pay my bills yet). We suctioned out about 400 gallons of water before deciding what we’d do with the carpet and walls.
The next day we had everyone return to work so that they could continue to get paid. It’s hard for small businesses to go several days without operating.
Now, a week later, most of the roads have cleared and most of the houses have too. The guts of people’s houses are all piled up at the edges of the streets like the dead after a battle. The piles go on for miles and miles. I’ve never seen such vast flooding devastation. I still have some friends whose houses are under water, and will be for at least a month. I’m not sure the houses will be salvageable after that.
All said and done, I think we are grateful as a city that the loss of life has been kept to a minimum when compared with other hurricanes. Also, we’ve seen the city come together as a solid unit in order to feed and clothe everyone displaced, clean up their houses and take care of each other in general. In a city of this size, it’s hard to remember that we are all neighbors – but we’ve done just that. We are all neighbors helping neighbors, processing the same trauma and the same experience.
(Above: Hermann Park on Labor Day after the water receded. We took a walk around the park as a family.)
I feel a sense of pride in my city’s response to this historical event. A week later – even when most people are back to work, we are still helping each other with food, clothing, shelter, and clean up. If you’re not here, the spirit of the thing is contagious. We are all changed, and even more interconnected.
I know that these things wear off. We will all be back to cussing each other out in traffic again soon, but I like that, when it matters, we can unite into a dominant force for good.
I love Houston.
Thank you, everyone, for your tireless effort to donate, buy and collect food, clothing, and money. Thank you for losing sleep so others could be comforted. Thank you for cooking and delivering meals. Thank you for putting others needs above your own. Thank you for helping each other to clear out your houses, and sort through memories of the things you’ve lost. Thank you, sincerely.
It’s an amazing site to watch a tragedy be turned on its heels by support, care, and love.
In keeping with the fact that it takes a village... for the foreseeable future Standard Handmade will be donating 10% of it's profits each month to charity. Right now its the Houston Food Bank in order to help feed people displaced by Harvey. We are committed to the health of our community long-term and our business model should reflect that.