Thursday, August 31, 2017

One More Little Story of Hurricane Harvey

During Hurricane Harvey, and even since, we have had an outpouring of concern for us. But our home was never in danger. As I talked about Monday, we’re just north of the Addicks Reservoir, which filled fuller than it has ever been. Ever!

We looked at elevations. The spillway was breached about 108 feet. As that happened, and more water just kept coming, there was an estimate that the level would peak just under 110 feet. Our street level drain is at about 109. Our house is another foot or two higher. Maybe three feet. With water already going over the spillway, it couldn’t get as high as we are without filling every part of Houston lower than about 112 feet.

But it was close. Our usual subdivision entrance has been underwater since Saturday night. We were concerned that the other entrance would be closed and leave us on an island with no way out. But that didn’t happen.

This is usually the entrance to our subdivision. Neighbors were putting up
a line of sandbags, trying to keep it from coming up on our side.

They ingeniously filled garbage bags with sand
from our neighborhood volleyball court.

During a storm like this, the first concern is personal. Are we going to be OK? And then comes concern for others. Since we felt fairly secure, we have been very concerned for many others, many we know that had to evacuate or suffer damage to their homes. A third of Harris County was underwater, which is only just today beginning to recede.

We haven’t left home much, because we don’t have rescue equipment, and it was often better to be off the roadways and out of the way of rescue personnel.

This is across the main four-lane road separating the upper and
lower parts of our subdivision. I usually take this route
to go to the neighborhood pool. Only high profile vehicles
could navigate this relatively shallow part of the main road.
The neighborhood roads are for all-terrain military
vehicles or boats only.

These rescuers are launching from the 4-lane road so they
can go down into the neighborhood. By Wednesday, people
who thought they could stay might be ready to get out.
But that idleness leads to a sort of survivors’ guilt anxiety. It is better to be out doing something meaningful. My prayers had included being guided to know what to do to help.

Yesterday we again took a walk to our entrance, and down the main street along our subdivision fence. The water was a bit higher than the day before. And boats and military vehicles were still doing work to get people out. There are people who would have stayed in an upstairs floor, where they’re safe, but then after a day realize they’d better get out.

As we were walking, we came upon a man sitting on the grass, with five dogs: a Chihuahua, three Dachshunds, and a Labrador. At first we thought he was just out walking the dogs. But as we talked, we learned he was displaced from one of those flooded houses across the street. We ended up driving him out to Katy, and learned more of his story along the way.
We found Dean and his dogs sitting on
the grass, just up from all that water. They took
a boat ride out just a couple of hours earlier.

His name is Dean. He had spent the night in a shelter at St. Maximillian, a Catholic Church about five miles away, where he reported they treated him very well. The rising waters sort of sneaked up on him, he said. He owns another house in Rockport, where the hurricane landed, and he’d been paying attention to that, and worrying about both the house and his friend who was living there. It’s a 100-year-old house they had just finished renovating. (It survived, by the way, while much of Rockport was completely flattened.)

That would have been how he spent Friday and Saturday. It was Saturday night when the torrents really hit in Houston. He hadn’t been that concerned, because he hadn’t flooded during the Tax Day Flood last year, even when several streets of homes near him had. That was 15 inches of rain. How bad could this be?

Then, all day Sunday the waters rose. Monday, water was still rising. By Tuesday he had water in the house. Who knows how long that water is going to stay there, waiting to drain? His house is, for now, part of the Addicks Reservoir.

Tuesday he saw a military vehicle going down the street, and he realized he’d better take the chance to get out. He had no time to take anything with him. He set up the house so the dogs would have food and water upstairs, and he left for the shelter.

Then on Wednesday he came back to see if he could rescue his animals. On the way in, he had to wade through chest-deep water for about half a mile to get to the house. Inside was a mess, but the dogs were upstairs and safe, just worried. He had to wait for an animal rescue boat to get them out, because there was no way to carry all five, and the water was too deep. The Labrador might have been able to swim, but the little dogs—two of whom were pretty old—couldn’t. So they waited for the boat and got on. Fortunately, he was able to take one small bag with him this time.

But then, once out, he had no transportation. And he realized that he had left his cell phone in his back pocket, so it no longer worked. He had planned to end up in his ex-wife’s and daughter’s house, but he hadn’t memorized the phone number; he always depended on his phone to remember for him.

Dean hesitated to ask, but he ventured to see if we had a vehicle that he could put dogs in. We do. We’re dog people, even though we don’t own one right now. We were going to go back to the house with him, to see if we could find the phone number on a computer. But it was about a mile walk back, and those little dogs have very short legs. By the time we got to the open entrance, Mr. Spherical Model decided he’d leave us there and walk quickly back for the car.

In our haste, we didn’t think to bring water or food. Afterward we learned he had been sitting there with his animals for probably two hours when we came upon him. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast at the shelter. We’re sorry about that, Dean.
I-10, also called the Katy Freeway, was
at a near standstill. This was on a low traffic day.
So glad we hadn't been expected to evacuate
the whole city on this road, even though it's maybe
the world's biggest freeway.

The drive to Katy usually takes about 25-30 minutes in good traffic. We had to go out of our way, since the usual route was right through the reservoir and will be underwater for probably the next couple of months. We went east to Beltway 8, south to I-10, and then west toward Katy. And then hit traffic. There was an accident slowing traffic almost as soon as we got on the freeway. And then traffic slowed because water on the road was taking up a couple of lanes. So it took about half an hour to get past that section. The rest of the way was clear, and we dropped him off safely.

Dean isn’t a neighbor we’d met before, even though we’re within a mile, and are essentially part of the same subdivision. At first he seemed a bit muddled, and was having a hard time explaining things or making decisions. Eventually, though, on our way, we learned about his work (in real estate and related work), and he seemed to be thinking clearer. It helped that the answer of where to go and how to get there were finally answered for him.

I wrote down for him the hotline numbers for the LDS Mormon Helping Hands, Catholic Charities, and others who will work together to do recover volunteer work once people can get back into their homes.

South of the Addicks Resesrvoir, water had covered the much lower
feeder road and, despite all efforts, had taken out a couple of lanes of I-10.

Eventually Dean will be OK. And we felt better because we had found a meaningful way to help. It was only one person (and five dogs), and there are tens of thousands of displaced people. I was reminded of the parable about the starfish left on shore when the tide goes out. You can’t save them all, so why try? Because it will mean something to the one you can save.

On our way home, we stopped by a restaurant where Mr. Spherical Model has been doing performance consulting lately. They had taken on a little water and were replacing a piece of carpet. But they were due to open the bar with limited food today, and a limited dinner menu by Friday night. In the meantime, they were making soup and bread to take to shelters. They’d done that the day before and were just getting ready to provide food for up to 300 people being sheltered at nearby Cy-Fair Lone Star College, where several smaller shelters had been consolidated. The workers were upbeat and willing, and excited to be doing what they do best—feeding people.

It will be a while before Houston and surrounding areas are back on firm ground. But spiritually, Hurricane Harvey showed that so many Texans have been on firm ground all along.

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