Our Hurricane Harvey experience

Standard

This is a long post, so readers you are warned!

Experience a hurricane – check. Okay, now that that’s done, I don’t ever want to experience one again!

The past few weeks have simultaneously felt like one long endless day, or 1,000 years. So much has happened since Friday before the hurricane hit, and I want to write everything down, all the little details, so I will not forget later.

On Thursday night, August 24, Harvey was still churning in the gulf, expecting to hit the Texas coast south of us. We knew to expect a lot of rain, but the forecast was still iffy at that point. The forecast went like this: Harvey, upon landfall, would be stuck in-between two pressure systems, and then stall for a few days, hence all the rain fall. The forecast was calling for about 10-15 inches of rain, which sounded bad. I had already asked my boss if I would be able to work from home, since I work on weekends, right when the worst would seem to happen. I was given instructions on how to connect to the work system. That lifted a load off my mind.

I suggested to Derek that we go to Target to get some non-perishable food, and fill up our tank of gas. I had gone grocery shopping on Tuesday, so we did have plenty of pantry food, but not quite a variety I’d like to have if the power went out. I have heard horror stories about the power being out for two weeks after Hurricane Ike. Thankfully, I get my meat separately, and due to the impending forecast, I had decided to hold off. So if we did lose power, we wouldn’t lose too much food.

Going to the Target was when things started feeling scary. On our way, we stopped at the Valero, the gas station we usually go to, and there were signs over all the pumps saying OUT OF GAS. Wow. Okay then. Then we stopped at a second gas station, and it was the same thing. Plastic bags covering all of the pumps. We sighed our first sigh of relief out of many for that week when there was gas at the third gas station.

Then it was on to the Target, where there was pandemonium. There was no water left, and most of the shelves were picked clean already, but we did manage to stock up on the usual stuff: chips, fruit cups, granola bars and beef jerky. I wanted pineapple cups, and there was one left, on the top shelf way in the back, too high for my small frame to reach. Derek was in another aisle, so I took matters into my hands and I climbed up the shelves.

After we got back home, we felt like we did everything we could do up until that moment, so we enjoyed the last night of what would be restful sleep for a while.

On Friday I went into work, and I asked my boss, “What happens if I lose power AND I am stranded? I can handle one or the other, but both? He calmed me down a bit, saying that there were emergency teams in place to make sure the Chronicle, a daily paper, got out every day. However, there were no measures in place for the weeklies, which I work for. He basically said that if we absolutely had to put the papers out a few days late, then so be it. He also told me that he saw no reason for me to come in on Saturday and Sunday and to work from home if the weather was bad. That put less pressure on me.

Throughout the day it was gloomy and it rained on and off all day. It didn’t seem like things were all that bad, but it was just a precursor of what was to come.

The highlight of the evening was when my birthday package from my parents came, and the labels were so water logged that you couldn’t read anything. The ink smeared right off! Luckily Derek had the tracking number.

Hurricane Harvey strengthened rapidly that evening. I had a pre-season football game on, and it was weird to have a second smaller screen on the TV showing the imminent land fall of Harvey. Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas, at 10 p.m.

We woke up on Saturday morning to – surprisingly – nothing. I still made the decision to stay home on Saturday, because I didn’t know how the day would unfold. Truth be told, I could have gone into work and been fine. There were even parts of the day where it didn’t rain for hours. We were starting to wonder if maybe the forecast was wrong.

Derek wanted to go out to take some photos for a school project, so I joined him. We went to Rice Village, which is a little area filed with shops. A few cafes were open, but most of the stores were closed. Some even had sand bags in front of the doors, and one boutique wrote GO AWAY HARVEY on their windows. I took photos of those stores and sent them to the Chronicle.

On Saturday night, I talked to my mom and dad who were eager for updates. I had found a website that was tracking rainfall totals in the city, and there was one rain gauge close to where we are. I told them, that up until that point, 3.52 inches of rain had fallen. My dad said, “That’s it?” And in some twisted way, I was disappointed. But I didn’t have to be disappointed for long.

Later that night, we got a thunderstorm that lasted over an hour, with heavy rain for longer than that. The lightning was endless. I was shocked we did not lose power then. Just like that, we went from 3.52 to 6.76 inches of rain. Woah. Now we’re talking. We put on our boots and walked around in the parking lot to check on our cars. The water was up over the toes of my boots!

Sleep that night was hard. We were woken up in the middle of the night more than once to flash flood alarms on our phones. The rain consistently pounded outside, all night long.

I woke up at 7:30 that morning, and looked outside the window. Whew, we weren’t under water. Then I turned on the news, and found out that just about the rest of Houston was under water. The first scene I saw on the TV was of Interstate 610, exit 4, which is about the half way point of my commute to work. That was under water. Well, I definitely was not going into work that day.

I checked the website for rainfall totals, and I couldn’t believe it. We had gotten 10 inches of rain overnight, and now the total for our area was 16.16 inches. It was already past the initial forecast, which I should mention that it had since been updated and was now calling for 30 inches.

I texted that number to mom and dad, who immediately called me. They had the news on as well. Together, we repeated the words, Oh my God, Oh my God, OH MY GOD with every broadcasted scene we saw.

This is when the days start to blur together. It was extremely hard to try to concentrate on work, when the news was a constant spew of disaster. Derek and I were constantly underfoot for each other, and tensions were running high. But that is a small price I had to pay. As I put it when I was talking to a friend, “We may have cabin fever, but at least we still have our “cabin.”

We ventured out a few times over the next two days out of curiosity, and a journalistic duty. It was eerie to walk out on an empty I-610, a six lane major highway that is normally filled with traffic. It was even scarier to see a constant stream of cars that were driving up the road, and then a few minutes later we would see them coming back with their flashers on, driving the wrong way. At least they were heeding the flashing sign, “Turn around, don’t drown.” There were cars abandoned up and down the whole street. Brays Bayou, which I normally pass over on my way to work, looked like a furious river, and it had already down quite a bit before we were able to get their safely. A few days later, we noticed that some streets, in particular the ones closest to the bayous, all looked like construction zones. Everyone’s possessions were all in giant piles on the curb.

Work was a flurry of activity. I was torn between being jealous and relieved that I was not at the flood zones to take pictures and report the news. I felt useless, and soon that turned into survivor’s guilt. I couldn’t comprehend that we were safe and dry, and houses just two miles down the road were underwater. One of my co-workers lost almost everything. Her and her husband had to evacuate from their roof into a boat. Derek also knows professors who have lost everything.

But through it all, I did manage to find my own ways to help out. I wrote a short article about a University of Houston Professor who was new to Houston, and his reaction to how UH and the city came together in times of need. I also put in a ton of over-time. I did two double shifts to help relieve people on the copy desk. I helped set out lunch one day for employees. I donated money to Mayor Turner’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, and shared the link for others to donate too.

Speaking about lunch, the generosity of other newspapers has been amazing. One day I had lunch courtesy of the Dallas Morning News; another day I had lunch courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle. My boss told me that he was fielding phone calls from all over the country who wanted to feed the reporters, most of whom had worked a week straight.

I was working an evening shift on Tuesday, when the storm finally decided it had enough of Houston and moved out. Five days later. I was walking past a window when I noticed the sky looked brighter than normal. The sun was out, and there was blue sky! We had not seen the sun in five days. At that point, our area had seen just over 32 inches of rain. There were other places that had seen up to 50, which broke a U.S. record.

A few weeks later, and we’re still seeing Harvey news non stop, but things are slowly returning back to normal, or at least as normal as things can get. This hurricane has changed everyone’s lives in Houston in someway. It is not something I will ever forget.

Advertisements

Hurricane Season

Standard

June 1st is the start of hurricane season, and I have seen an influx of different hurricane related articles and columns the past two weeks.

We went to Galveston for the day (more on that in another post) and there are reminders about hurricane season everywhere. All along the causeway bridge there were big billboards that proclaimed “HURRICANE SEASON, BE PREPARED.” And later on that morning, while we were eating a mid-morning snack at the Mosquito Cafe, there was a small plaque on the wall noting where the high water mark was during Hurricane Ike. It was taller than Derek!

We arrived here at the end of the summer last year, so while hurricane season was on our mind, it was soon over. Now, staring down a full season, it feels different.

We have a weekly little reporters meeting, and during last week’s meeting, our editor gave us advice, because none of the current reporters have been around for the last two hurricane events, which happened in 2005 and 2008.

There were lessons to be learned from both hurricanes. I have been reading up on the impacts of both, and I am glad that, if another hurricane were to come, Houston should (hopefully) be more prepared.

Hurricane Rita formed just a few weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and was barreling towards Houston, which understandably caused a lot of widespread panic. A few days out, Rita was, at the time, one of the strongest hurricanes on record. It seems as if everyone in Houston tried to leave all at once, which caused major problems.

Out of everyone who died in that hurricane, the majority of the people died during the evacuations. All of the highways out turned into parking lots. The opposite sides of the road weren’t opened until it was a little too late. People ran out of gas and then that turned into having heat strokes. A bus carrying senior citizens traveling to Dallas over heated and caught fire. All this for almost nothing. Rita ended up turning east, and didn’t hit Galveston/Houston as originally thought. Most people who evacuated could have just stayed home.

Hurricane Ike, however, did hit Galveston and came onshore to Houston quite dead on. Our editor told us that it knocked out the entire power grid and some people were without power for THREE WEEKS. Now just imagine how that feels in the middle of a Texas summer, when the temperature can easily reach 100 degrees.

The advice he gave if another hurricane like that happens is, to try to stay ahead of the game. Already have batteries and candles on hand (check and check.) Make sure you have plenty of water and non perishable food. And whatever we do, try to make it out to the grocery store and a gas station ahead of everyone else.

He said that, even though we always have a few days notice ahead of time that a hurricane may hit, everyone seems to wait until the last minute, and then it is a frenzy.

I am sure that Derek and I would have this kind of common sense if a hurricane were to show up at our door step, but it is still helpful to hear it from someone else who has lived through two bad hurricanes.

We looked at evacuation routes, and we are just to the west of evacuation zones. So, if there is a mandatory evacuation, we won’t have to go, but depending on how safe we feel, we may leave anyway. The University of Houston is in an evacuation zone, which is good to know. In the event of a hurricane, UH would probably have to close down.

I read somewhere that there is a 32 percent chance of Houston being hit, and I’ve heard talk that “We’re due for a dead on hit again since it’s been a few years.” I don’t think it works that way, but who knows what will happen this summer, or the next.