Monday, August 28, 2017

The Rains Came Down and the Floods Came Up

We’re in Houston. We’re still OK. It’s still raining.

It’s the fourth day of Harvey, although we only got sprinkles on most of Friday. The winds of Hurricane Harvey did most of their damage Friday night further south, toward Corpus Christi. Entire towns were laid low. Rockport hardly still exists. But very little human life was lost, because people evacuated.
Hurricane Harvey, photo National Weather Service

Wind has not been an issue here in Houston, with the storm downgraded to a tropical storm, but it is stalled and swirling. It is rain like we haven’t seen here—or anywhere—since, maybe Noah. (I’m thinking it must have been challenging for Noah and family to have this downpour for ten times longer than we have faced so far. Although they were probably occupied enough with the animals not to obsess about it much.)

Houston is built for floods. The city is at about 30 feet above sea level and very flat. So we have a canal system in and around every neighborhood to take care of runoff. It’s called the Bayou City, which sounds better than the Drainage Canal City. Also, there are areas set apart as runoff reservoirs. Just south of us is the Addicks-Barker Reservoir. In normal times, it’s a very large park, with baseball and soccer fields, camp sites, a tiny zoo, and lots of biking trails. When it rains, it becomes a lake. 

Sometimes water flows onto nearby roads, and traffic gets diverted to alternate routes for a while.

This setup handled Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, Hurricane Rita in 2005 (two weeks after Katrina), Hurricane Ike in 2008, the Tax Day Flood of 2016.

Actually, the Tax Day Flood—before hurricane season, just a freak storm—showed us the limits. This is like the Tax Day Flood day after day. 

Addicks and Barker Reservoirs Elevation

Last night Harris County officials decided to open the dams, for a controlled release. It will relieve some of the water rising on homes near the reservoir, but endangers more places downstream. But if the dam were to be breached, an uncontrolled release would affect those downstream locations even worse. During a press conference a newsperson asked about that, because it looks like officials are choosing whom to flood. But the official just looked at him and said, “Downtown is already flooded.”

Downtown Houston before and after the flood
photo found here

It was surprising how quickly we got back to normal after that April 2016 flood. Water drained. Much of the building material was designed to handle that and was quickly cleaned and serviceable. I don’t know how long recovery will take this time. Water is higher. It’s staying longer. Downtown could take longer.

Many of the homes affected last year went through a months-long recovery process, and homeowners have probably felt uneasy this entire hurricane season. Many of the same people are being affected again. As well as many who were a close call last time.

This is the front door of our beloved LDS Houston Temple
photo courtesy the Haines family,
more information here

Usually we worry about areas closer to the coast, in southeast Houston. This storm is big enough to affect the full circle around the Greater Houston Area. And that’s a big area—bigger than Rhode Island, and twice the population of Manhattan. Random places are affected that haven’t been hit before. And it is an unimaginable amount of water. (This Washington Post story tries to give perspective.)

At our home wee’re at 30.12 inches since the storm began. We got 15 inches in the Tax Day Flood. We got more than 15 inches the first 24 hours of Harvey, but we’re only getting about 9 inches a day since. Whoever thought saying “only 9 inches of rain” would make sense? I've been obsessed with the Harris County Flood Warning System site, which is full of useful graphics and data.

What I’m trying to say is, this isn’t in any way the fault of people who have built in high-risk areas, or who have done less than they should to take precautions. We have learned with every storm, and have gotten better at handling floods. I’m very grateful to both government and private citizens who are going out of their way to rescue and care for people.

Loss of life count on this fourth day is at three confirmed, including where the Hurricane made landfall—or maybe five in some reports. [While I was writing this, a family of six was washed away in their car. Surely the count will go up a bit.] Each of these is important and unfortunate. But at this point 2000 people had lost their lives in Katrina. That difference is stunning.

Looting has been minimal. A story I read yesterday reported two shootings of home invaders, one killed. And the story pointed out that there are 22 million guns in Texas. So, unlike New Orleans after Katrina, looting here is not profitable.

There was no panic to evacuate. Those who needed to evacuate have done it orderly, as needed. More evacuations are happening, including long-time friends of ours this very afternoon. This evening evacuation orders came out for subdivisions just across the main road from us, and just to the west of us. (Actually, our subdivision has been mentioned, but as a warning, not mandatory, if I’m understanding correctly.)

Our church doors have been opened to about a dozen families. Downtown, the George R. Brown Convention Center is taking in 4800 refugees. Somewhere around 30,000 (estimates keep rising) have been evacuated. Thousands are being rescued in boats and by Coast Guard and Navy helicopters. I heard about a search and rescue team from Utah that traveled here to find and save people in trouble. And people with boats have answered the County Judge’s request to go out in neighborhoods to collect flood victims and transport them to shelters.

People who are dry in homes are asking how to help [some suggestions here], and where they can take donations of water and other basic needs. We’ll get more of those as people can be certain they’re safe to go out.

We went out to the Kroger one mile from home—our first time out in the car since Thursday. Some water was on the main road, and pretty deep the direction we weren’t going. But we got what we needed—except eggs, which were not to be found. No bread or water on the shelves, but we have enough at home, and we covered the rest of my weekly grocery list. People were orderly and cheerful, including our checker, who was uncertain whether she would have to evacuate later today.

We’re about five miles north of the Addicks-Barker Reservoir area. And our elevation is just above the top of the levee. I think we’re going to ride this out without damage. We’ve had power the whole time (except for a couple of momentary blips this evening). A tornado touched down about five miles west on Saturday, but tornado alerts are much fewer now.

Tornado Saturday in Cypress
photo from here

Social media has been very helpful. We’ve been able to check in on one another, and get word out that we’re safe. We’ve been able to share photos and information.

It is touching how many people are sincerely praying for us here. People have called and texted to check in on us. Our church does that; we try to make sure everyone is accounted for and needs are assessed. And once that is settled, the next question is, “How can we help?” We’re organized that way. But, really, all of Houston has developed that attitude.

Thank you if you are praying. Thank you if you are looking for ways to help. I’m sure there will be the need for help with recovery for some time to come.

Someone posted a comparison to Charlottesville, or Berkeley, saying that Houston, with people rescuing one another, is the real America. It’s full of love and caring. And we can feel God’s spirit with us as we get through this unprecedented disaster.

SWAT team member rescues woman and her 13-month old
photo found here

As Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner pointed out, even in this dire situation, people have maintained their sense of humor.

Here’s one example.

I found this on Facebook, but it may have come from here.

And here's another:

I found this on Facebook, but I don't know who to credit.

Again, we personally are among the blessed ones still safe and dry at home, for which we are grateful. We are mindful of our many friends and neighbors who will have some big challenges rebuilding their lives after the rain finally stops. Please keep the prayers coming.

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