My Week with Harvey: A Survivor’s Story

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey is the storm Houstonians will talk about for years to come.  As a lifelong resident of the Texas Gulf Coast (born in Galveston, actually), I had come to realize at an early age that hurricane season is just a part of our history and our culture.  I remember watching my grandmother’s corn crops fly around the back yard during Hurricane Alicia in 1983, I remember spending the night in my car while stranded by flood waters during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, and I remember “hunkering down” in an interior hallway of a Galveston Bay home during Hurricane Ike in 2008.  But Harvey…Harvey was something else entirely.  I was one of the lucky few that survived Harvey without any damage.  This is my story of spending a week with Harvey.

 

 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Being raised on the Texas Gulf Coast, I’ve always prepared for hurricane season every year by stocking supplies and lurking weather blogs.  I don’t plan big vacations or cruises during this time because of the uncertainty (my least favorite thing).   And every time there’s so much as a bug’s fart of a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, my internal “fight or flight” kicks in.  Two days before Harvey made landfall in the Corpus Christi area, Tropical Depression Harvey formed and raised the hair on my arms.  The forecast looked like Harvey would make landfall southwest of us, meaning we’d be on the “dirty side” with more wind and rain, but it also looked like it would pass over us on its turn northeast bringing more rain.  My mother and coworkers used expressions like “I have a bad feeling about this one.”  And my husband said “let’s go ahead and get another bag of dog food” (just in case).

 

 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

It was pretty clear at this point that our weekend would be spent at home.  Houston, aptly nicknamed Bayou City, was literally built on a swamp, and we flood in the most sporadic of rain storms (see: recent flooding events in 2015 and 2016).  I kept lurking the weather blogs and sent my mother, who lives less than a mile from the coast, to Louisiana to ride out now Tropical Storm Harvey (just in case).

 

 

Friday Morning, August 25, 2017

Surprisingly, my work in Downtown Houston didn’t close for business on Friday.  Okaaaaaaay.  We were forecast to receive over 20″ of rain in the Houston area.  Wait, what?!?  I was reminded of a similar situation in 2001 when the restaurant I worked at didn’t close for Tropical Storm Allison.  When they finally closed the restaurant and let us go (after cleaning up…yeah), the streets were already too flooded for me to make it home.  I had to spend the night on high(ish) ground in my car hoping the water wouldn’t reach me.  I won’t be doing that again.  Remembering that long night, I drove to work on Friday morning pissed as a cat being given a bath.  I spent the morning glued to the radar (watching now Hurricane Harvey begin to bear down on Corpus Christi), weather blogs (particularly the comments section of Wunderground Cat 6 where users post their statuses from their scattered locations), and Houston TranStar (checking for flooded streets).  By lunchtime, I made the call and send my coworkers and myself home so we could get ahead of any rising waters.

 

 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Feeling moderately guilty for leaving work early without the company officially releasing us, and having DragonCon the following weekend, I kept my mind and hands occupied by finishing up my Loki horns for one of my costumes and making a new last minute Themyscira/Amazonian costume for my niece from scratch.  Hey, I like to stay busy, and I was all hopped up on espresso!  The rain started to come down pretty hard that afternoon and on into the evening, so we settled in for the night, opened a bottle of Prosecco, and baked a bunch of chicken while we still had power.

 

 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Friday night through Saturday night was rough.  As seen in my TranStar screenshots above (note the time stamps), Hurricane Harvey’s outer bands were hitting Houston hard, and already causing street flooding (blue droplets).  Sleep became more sporadic with all three dogs wanting to be in bed with us.  Tegan (right) is just a general snuggler, Ginger (middle) was terrified of the thunder and rain, and Amelia (left) just wants to be where the other two dogs are, completely oblivious to the storm outside.  I spent all day Saturday at the sewing machine working on my Diana Prince costume since we still had power.  So far, so good.

 

 

Sunday Morning, August 27, 2017

Sunday morning at 4:30am we got up to let the dogs out to potty, and we were pretty shocked to see water 2/3 up our driveway.  Well, I couldn’t go back to sleep at that point.  This was the highest water level ever seen in this neighborhood (built before Allison in 2001) and we needed to be ready to move us and our valuables upstairs if the water got any higher.  We turned on the news and watched the devastating coverage as the rest of Houston was starting to wake up and assess the widespread flooding from now Tropical Storm Harvey.  We were glued to the television (and the water level on the driveway).  All. Day.

 

 

Sunday Afternoon, August 27, 2017

By early afternoon, the rain gave us a break and the water receded enough that we put on our boots and went out to survey the neighborhood with the rest of our neighbors.  No one in our neighborhood had water in their homes, and we counted our blessings.  We watched out for snakes and fire ant balls, and checked the retention pond north of our neighborhood (panoramic photos below).  No one could get in or out of the neighborhood.  We were isolated and stranded, but we were dry.  Friends and family to the west, north, and east of us weren’t so lucky.  They had water in their homes and there was nothing we could do to help them.

 

 

Channeling My Inner 10 Year Old

When I was a child growing up on the coast, we never evacuated for storms.  We never needed to, technically.  So when the eyes of storms would pass over us, I’d join the other kids in the neighborhood and go play in the water before the rain and wind would pick up again.  Our parents would be watching nearby ready to call us in (whistle, not cell phone…I was a child in the 80’s after all).  So as a caffeine addicted adult that now worries about everything (friends, family, ants, snakes, sucking storm drains, my dogs, their dogs, the stray neighborhood cats, the bats on Waugh…do I even need to continue?), I realized just how necessary blowing off steam is.  Needing a break from the news coverage and the feeling of isolation and helplessness, we inflated the flamingo I bought for a recent cruise to Mexico and I rode that pink monstrosity down the street giggling like a 10 year old girl.  One of my neighbors came outside and said they’d blow up their unicorn and join me after the next rain band passes.  Even the dogs wanted to play in the water.  We all needed that.

 

 

Sunday Night, August 27, 2017

Sunday night was another bad one, but luckily the water level didn’t get any higher than it did the previous night.  Our friends to the west and north were really getting hit with rain and tornadoes.  There would be no work the next day since Downtown Houston and every road in between was flooded.  I was wound so tight I wouldn’t even drink wine until the Game of Thrones season finale came on and I was able to escape for a solid hour and a half.  Dragons make everything better.

 

 

Monday, August 28, 2017

On Monday we watched the water levels go up and down the driveway, down into the storm drains, and up the driveway again with each passing band.  We were also still waiting for nearby creeks to overbank and seeing controlled reservoir releases on the west side of Houston that would “protect” downtown from any additional flooding.  Due to runway flooding, our flights to Atlanta for DragonCon in two days (Wednesday) out of Hobby Airport were cancelled.  We switched flights to Thursday.  Then those were cancelled too.  I was a wreck and getting more stir crazy by the minute.

 

 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Work was still closed.  Time to be productive again.  With so many things beyond my control and not knowing if/when/how we’d make it to Atlanta for DragonCon to showcase my yearlong costuming efforts, I put my energy to good use: I reorganized the pantry, finished my Diana Prince costume, hung a new antique rake, and reorganized my race medals.  We won’t talk about how much espresso I had that day…that stays between my husband and I.

 

 

Wednesday Morning/Afternoon, August 30, 2017

Work was still closed and we still couldn’t drive anywhere.  Our niece had evacuated her flooded home in Dayton, Texas to Baytown, Texas (one of the worst places to be in flooding) and we still couldn’t get to her.  She was worried we’d go to DragonCon without her…and we weren’t going without her (or without our dog/house sitter able to safely get to our house).  The only ones happy in this whole situation were our dogs, who had us all to themselves since Friday.  And our friends from other parts of the country (and even Houston) were starting to show up in Atlanta for DragonCon…us not knowing if/when/how we would get there.  Drive?  Holding on to a shred of hope we’d be able to get to our niece and find a route out of town in the next couple days, I packed our costumes and waited.  I had espresso and waited some more.  If we could go, I wanted to be ready.  And I needed something to do anyway.

 

 

Wednesday Evening, August 30, 2017

By Wednesday evening my husband was able to navigate a route to Baytown and back to retrieve our niece, and our dog/house sitter was able to navigate a route to our house from the west side of Houston.  Amazing the difference about 8 hours of no rain makes.  I packed the car like a proper Tetris pro and we were outta there!  We found a route out of Houston through Huntsville and drove up to Shreveport, Louisiana to spend the night (all the while following Tropical Storm Harvey out of Texas).

 

 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

After a short nap in Shreveport and at least 10 hours of driving ahead of us, we left the hotel at 5:00am.  We continued to follow Harvey east through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  It wasn’t until we crossed the Georgia state line and Harvey jumped ahead of us did I start to relax and plan our weekend with whatever costumes I managed to pack.  Houston was still a flooded mess and would take several days or even weeks to drain, and we would just have to help when we get back.

 

 

Labor Day Weekend at DragonCon in Atlanta

One of the best.  Survivor’s guilt is real, but myself, my husband, and my niece all needed the escape from reality and the shenanigans that ensued at DragonCon.  We needed our friends, nerd normalcy, and a functioning infrastructure.  I hugged more of my friends (and some strangers) than I usually do, we wore our best of the best of costumes, and we ate pizza with reckless abandon.  It was worth the drive (although I’d prefer to not make that drive again).

 

 

After the Storm

We returned home on Monday night and prepared to return to work and reality on Tuesday.  Did that even happen?  Any of it?  Houston is already recovering well but we have a long way to go.  We will be helping demo and rebuild, starting with our niece’s house.  If you’re reading this and inclined to help, there are a lot of good links in this NY Times article: Where to Donate to Harvey Victims (and How to Avoid Scams) and this NY Times article: How to Help Irma Victims (and How to Avoid Scams).  Hurricane season is far from over, so stay vigilant my friends.

Edited to include Hurricane Irma efforts in Florida