And like most house guests, he really outlived his welcome. I’ve lived in Houston all of my life, and I’ve never seen a storm like this before.
The First Signs
Harvey started out as a wave, like most tropical weather events. “Wave” sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Like a wave at a ball game or something. Ha!
When the storm crossed the Yucatan Peninsula it more or less fell apart. The National Weather Service did say it was likely to reform, and it was forecast to become a Category 1 storm. Texas watched, and waited. We’ve been through this before, and so often, these storms carry some rain and wind, but not a lot of bite. There were a lot of jokes about prepping for the hurricane …
Photos of carts stocked with liquor, and messages from local police departments that pointed out liquor isn’t water.
Memes of Steve Harvey’s face headed for the Texas coast …
Some people didn’t think it was funny, but those of us who’ve been through it before knew we better laugh while we could, because chances were that soon, we’d be crying.
Harris County was warned that this could be a “major rain event.” Now, let me say that we get a lot of “major rain events” in this area. In the last two years, we’ve endured the Tax Day Flood and the Memorial Day Flood. We always pull through, though. We are a hearty lot, as I’m sure you’ve heard, and we take care of our own. I don’t think anyone expected this to be any different. The usual warnings were issued:
- Leave if you live in low-lying areas
- Be sure you have enough food, water, and supplies to last five to seven days
- Turn around, don’t drown
I hate going to the grocery store on a regular day, but during a situation like this? No thanks. I placed an order with Kroger’s ClickList with plans to pick it up on Wednesday evening. Apparently, everyone had the same idea. I wasn’t too worried about the “usual” food items, but the 26th was my birthday, and my son’s (Travis) birthday, too. In the order was everything we would need for dinner (Mexican food) and to bake a cake. Or so I thought.
I forgot the eggs. I needed eggs, but I forgot to order them. No problem, I thought, I’ll just run in and grab some before I pick up my order. I walked in to the store and turned around and walked back out. It was worse than the night before Thanksgiving in there! No way, I thought, and went back out to get my order.
I should have known when I pulled around to the side of the store and saw 10 cars sitting there, this wouldn’t go well. Chris was with me, and we waited for 35 minutes for our order. Finally I got out and went to find out what was going on. I mean, I could tell they were overwhelmed, but I’d seen others get their order, so where was mine?
They stopped filling orders, though, and told me to come back the next day. That’s what I did, and Thursday, I had no problem getting my items … well, except for bread and water. I joked with Chris that I guess the prisoners wouldn’t be getting fed that evening as we went to bed. I felt pretty good about our preparations, and we were fairly well ready. Plus, we had another day if we needed anything else.
Friday morning, Chris’s alarm went off for work, but I couldn’t get back to sleep like normal (he gets up at 5:30 in the morning so don’t judge me!). I finally gave up around 5:45 and got up, but he was already gone. Dean had left a present for me though – a big pile of doggy poop. I went to clean it up, but we didn’t have any carpet cleaner, so off I went to HEB. I figured, 6 am, who will be there.
Half of Cypress was there, it turns out. I figured since I needed to stand in line anyway, I could pick up a few things. They didn’t have any water, either, but they did have bread. A few more items, a fairly quick check out and I was on my way back home. But still no eggs.
Friday afternoon, around 3 pm, Chris texted me that his company had shut down operations and he was headed home. When he got home, we did one last check on preparations and spent the rest of the evening watching Netflix.
Chris’s company again suspended operations on Saturday in anticipation of the storm. Personally, I was very grateful. When the news says, “This is going to be a major rain event,” I may make jokes but I take the threat seriously. The Gulf Coast requires advanced survival skills; living in Harris County, one of the most flood-prone regions in the US, means you better be better than expert. Sadly, most of the people who move here don’t realize this, and they get caught out.
We stayed home on Saturday, waiting for the rain to start. There wasn’t a lot of rain till the evening, but the news was saying we’d see a lot more overnight and on Sunday. Stupid people on social media were taunting the storm, I guess. “Is that all you got, Harvey?!” But the worst hadn’t even started yet.
People who weren’t raised here don’t realize that most roadways and parks were built in Harris County to control the floodwaters. Parks, freeways and road ways are meant to bear the brunt of heavy rainfall in this area. And this is why so many people drown in their cars. The area motto during rain storms is Turn Around, Don’t Drown. People often disregard it, going around road blocks and driving in to waters that are far deeper than they look. It’s one of the reasons why I was concerned about Chris being at work when the storm hit. If he had been there when the rain started, he could have been stuck for days.
The rain started to fall in earnest on Sunday morning. It was coming down in buckets, but the streets didn’t start to flood until later in the day. More concerning was the tornado threat. We were getting flood and tornado warnings every few minutes. Basically, we were under threat of tornadoes for about 48 hours.
By Sunday night, we were a bit concerned. Water was beginning to come up in the yard, and roadways were flooding. We talked a little bit about what we’d do if water started to get close to the house, and made some plans for it.
The County made an announcement that the two reservoirs that protect downtown Houston and the Houston Ship Channel would begin an unprecedented release while it was still raining because if they didn’t, the levees could have failed. We are above the reservoirs, but if they are full, where is the rain water supposed to go?
Meanwhile, Kerstin and Joseph were concerned that water could breach their front door at their house ten minutes away. They started making preparations by taking furniture upstairs, moving food up, and the like. I decided it was a good time to take my sewing machines upstairs.
When we went to bed Sunday night, water was up to the middle of the yard, and we were concerned about Travis’s car. He was parked behind me in the driveway and water was about halfway up the back tire.
Monday morning, we woke up and the water was down! Wooo!!! We thought maybe the worst was over for us, but Chris moved Travis’s car up in the yard as much as he could, just in case.
About noon-ish, Chris thought he might run to the Fiesta grocery store on the corner to grab some sodas and chips because he was bored. But when he walked out the door, it was obvious he wasn’t going anywhere.
Believe it or not, we still weren’t terribly concerned. We haven’t ever flooded here, and we expected that the streets might be filled with water but overall, not too concerned.
But then, a few hours later, we saw this from our garage.
That’s flood water at the back of our vehicles, which were pulled up all the way to the garage doors. And it was coming up fairly quickly. NOW we decided we could be concerned.
Hip deep water in the streets. Yeah, that’s when I decided I should be a little concerned.
Sometime around 8 pm, we started hearing very loud trucks. We went out on the front porch to do a water check and find out what the noise was. It was the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department making evacuations from the back of the neighborhood. I saw the neighbor from across the street, who has a one story house, go to another neighbor’s two story house to take shelter. Water was pretty deep – probably waist high on a person of normal height (my neighbor is probably about 6’5″ or more, so not as deep on him).
When we woke up on Tuesday, I sort of expected to see the water gone again, but it wasn’t. It had gone down a little, maybe two or three inches, but it was still very deep and not passable at all. And it was raining again. Still, the water continued to go down, very slowly.
We hear a rather loud helicopter and looked out to see a Coast Guard helicopter (we think) circling an area just behind our neighborhood. We had no idea what they were doing, but it seemed very dramatic.
Fortunately for us, the water receded before about 4 pm. We have no idea exactly when or how, because when we had checked just an hour or two before, it was still pretty deep. But … at 4 pm when we checked again, we no longer had water in our yard.
Through all of this, the best thing is that my faith has been restored in humanity. People have helped others, without any reason other than they wanted to help. I’ve seen mobilization of units from other areas of Texas, and from other states. Everyone who could, pitched in and helped those who couldn’t.
It’s been a long, hard road for us – it’s taken over a month for me to write this. Even though we didn’t have any major damage, and everything is fine for us, the trauma of watching the water rise, seeing the people on tv that had to be saved, worrying about all of my family scattered across Houston – it all took a toll. Only recently have the nightmares about rising water subsided enough for me to sleep well.
I’ve learned a lot from this experience, and next time I will be better prepared. Next time, I’ll be ready to shelter at home for a few months, not a few days.