The stories I keep reading and watching from south Texas are heartbreaking. They aren’t the first stories we have seen about devastating hurricane damage, and, unfortunately, they likely won’t be the last, but stories about hurricane flooding and tragedy always tug at my heart. As a North Carolinian, I have lived through many hurricanes. Some hurricanes were worse than others, none as bad as Harvey. It is hard to understand the impact of the incredible amount of rain that has come with the storm until you see photos and look at maps of the affected areas. I hurt for all of those people who have lost their houses, their loved ones, their livelihoods, and who don’t know when they will be able to return or how they will create a new life. It is difficult to know how to help in these situations while we are states away, without a lot of disposable funds. For those in a position to help, the New York Times has provided a good list of ways to help disaster relief and hurricane victims – listing donations of money, shelter, food, diapers, and even blood.
The feeling that many in the Houston area are experiencing is a feeling I know all too well. When Will and I first got married we found a tiny 1-story building apartment in a good location for a good rental price. It had new carpet, new kitchen floors, and new appliances. It was also in a 100-year floodplain. The carpets, floors and appliances were new because two years prior the entire building had flooded and everything had to be replaced. The apartment manager reassured us that the building hadn’t experienced a flood for many years before that, and that, based on the statistics, the chance of another flood in the 100-year floodplain in next 5 years was low. So we decided to stay. We lived there for a year without experiencing any problems with rising water, so we signed a lease for another year.
The day before New Year’s Eve that year, we woke up at Will’s grandparent’s house in Georgia to repeated flash flood alerts on our phones. We monitored the situation, knowing that our apartment could be at risk during flash flood situations. As Will pulled up the local news website, we saw the image of fire trucks evacuating the apartment complex connected to ours, and water levels already at knee-level. The rain was not predicted to stop until the next morning and we were six hours away in Georgia, watching these apartments adjacent to ours on the news, wondering what that meant for us. We frantically called our family members who were still in town, asking them, through tears, if they could please get sandbags and check on the status of our apartment as we abruptly hopped in the car and rushed back. It was the worst and most suspenseful drive home we have ever experienced – I cried and prayed and cried and prayed as the rain battered the windshield. We were so lucky to have loving, wonderful family nearby who were able to move valuables out and barricade the doors with tarps and sandbags as the water outside rose past their knees and spilled into their rainboots. Without them, I’m not sure that the damage would have been so limited.
When we arrived back, hours after the flash flood warnings, the water had begun to recess. There was a water line along the outside bricks and front stoop that stopped not even 1/4-inch below the bottom edge of our front door. That night we went to bed in the guest room at Will’s mom’s house, exhausted, relieved, and emotionally drained. There were no tears left in either of us. We returned the next morning to check on the water levels and assess the results of the storm. While the apartment smelled like mildew and the bathroom linoleum was peeling up around the edges, nothing was beyond repair. We were so lucky that day. Lucky to have family nearby and willing to drop everything and help, lucky that our apartment was built just high enough to avoid total floodwaters, lucky that it wasn’t a hurricane that would have continued through the next day, and lucky that the water began to recess when it did.
While we were extremely blessed that day, so many others have not been as fortunate during Hurricane Harvey, and I feel deeply and empathetically for them. I know the fear, the sadness, and the unknown that rises up with the waters. The overwhelming feeling of absolute helplessness and vulnerability transcends culture, race, socioeconomic status – it is felt by everyone in these situations. 300 miles of the Gulf Coast have been and are being battered by Hurricane Harvey and hundreds of thousands of people are displaced with rainfall surpassing records and continuing to increase each hour. Whether or not you can round up money to send, or offer local services, we can all send thoughts, prayers, and love. To Texas, with love.
Update: Other bloggers and groups have put together great lists of ways to help. Check out these lists from Lynzy and Co, Houston-based Veronika’s Blushing, Houston-based Sugar and Cloth, and the non-profit Charity Navigator.