A neighbor's tree crashed through the back of their home.EXPAND
A neighbor's tree crashed through the back of their home.
Photo by Clint Hale

Harvey Showed This Hurricane First-Timer What Houston Is About

I’ve lived in greater Houston for nearly eight years. And yet, despite spending nearly a quarter of my life in the Bayou City, I always considered my native South Texas home. That all changed over the weekend.

By now, Harvey is front-page news around the world. Communities have been destroyed, lives have been lost and we’re not even out of this yet. Flooding is ongoing, and the greater Houston area is looking at years of rebuilding in the aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane that hit land and refused to leave. "Tragedy" is a word that gets thrown around far too often; it is best reserved for what Houston and the surrounding area is dealing with as we speak.

I moved to Houston about a year after Hurricane Ike struck the Texas coast. Even then, more than a year after the Category 4 storm struck, colleagues and friends still spoke of Ike as if it had just happened. Many of them were without power for long stretches of time, and numerous others were still dealing with property damage and insurance hassles stemming from the wreckage.

I didn’t quite understand any of this. In fact — moment of total honesty — upon moving to the Katy area in November 2009, my first thought was why a large ditch sat next to my home. Turns out that ditch was a bayou, one designed to house excess waters in the event of a major storm.

Our author's house as the floodwaters rose on Sunday morning.
Our author's house as the floodwaters rose on Sunday morning.
Photo by Clint Hale

I left Katy a few years ago for life in the Inner Loop. By then, I was more than familiar with the local bayous and the vital purpose they served in various parts of the city. And while the Memorial Day floods of 2015 and the Tax Day floods of 2016 were catastrophic enough, and certainly impactful enough to assimilate a non-local into life in a storm-prone coastal city, Hurricane Harvey was something else altogether.

Like many others in the area, I watched local news coverage for the better part of Friday and into Saturday. Being housed so close to a bayou – my Oak Forest home resides no more than a quarter-mile from White Oak Bayou – I monitored Harvey’s potential path as meteorologists projected its path. As far as Friday and into Saturday was concerned, my area was mostly overcast with scattered storms. Then, Saturday night came.

I woke up early Sunday morning around 4:30 a.m. to the sound of torrential wind and rain. I checked water levels outside as my cul de sac took on the form of a small lake. I remained out there for the next eight hours, monitoring water levels, checking on neighbors and elderly in the area, and making sure storm drains were clear as we made continued preparations for the inevitable flooding to come. All this while monitoring news coverage when able as the waters rose close to our home, both in the front and the backyard. In the end, a vast majority of the homes in my neighborhood took on water, and one family was displaced when a large tree smashed through the back of their home.

White Oak Bayou near 34th and TC Jester on Tuesday afternoon.EXPAND
White Oak Bayou near 34th and TC Jester on Tuesday afternoon.
Photo by Clint Hale

We monitored bayou and neighborhood status updates via social media and the like as locals in and around the neighborhood banded together to get through Harvey. And this, as I watched a community rally around itself, is where I finally felt like a Houstonian. Seeing local news reports as those with boats and large trucks rescued families and pets, watching as those lucky enough to be safe from the storm volunteered at shelters to help those who were less fortunate, seeing donations pour in – both from the Houston area and nationwide – as the world came to Houston’s aid.

This is love, people. This isn’t about politics, race or religion. It’s about everyday people gathering and supporting one another in the name of something bigger. From the first responders who risked their lives to assist with flood evacuation, to people from outside Houston who made their way here to help, to those – many of whom had already lost their homes – who nonetheless did all they could to help neighbors and strangers alike, Houston over the past several days has proven that true character is revealed in times of trial.

As I type this, the rain still falls, the water in some areas rises and the evacuations are ongoing. Families are displaced, some separated by roads that are no longer passable, others by greater distances. The damage is both immediate and long-term; rebuilding will take time and money, but Houston and other affected areas will persevere. Once a reluctant local, I am now – along with millions of others – proud of my city. Houston Strong. Texas Forever.

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