I might have mentioned before that I’m originally from Houston. The situation there is dire … thankfully, all my friends and family seem to be holding their own so far. My younger sister lives with our 95 year old mother in the house we all grew up in. It has flooded once before, with Tropical Storm Allison. This time, so far (literally knocking on wood here), the water got up to the house but not into it. They haven’t had power since Saturday night.
I’ve seen a lot of conjecture on the media about this situation, but there are a few things you should know.
Houston has *always* had flooding problems. The place is basically a swamp they built a city on. Most often, it is localized, but any part of the city can get at least temporarily inundated. I always hated even the temporary inconvenience of flooding. I’ve had to clean up after a catastrophic flood only once, in 1976 … the first citywide flood I’d seen. I worked for The University of Houston, at the University Center (the student center) at the time and their “satellite” student center flooded. Small wonder, as it was underground. The aftermath was awful, especially in the food service area.
Some of my earliest memories back into the fifties are of our street flooding. Those floods rarely extended much beyond the curbs. The worst one of my childhood was Hurricane Carla. It got about 1/3 of the way up the yard. Unlike Harvey, Carla blew and rained and moved on. That’s what these storms are supposed to do.
This tendency to flood is a major reason I decided to move away. I’m a wimp about flooding, I admit it.
I hear the Mayor, Sylvester Turner, has gotten some undeserved flak about not ordering an evacuation. I knew him in college, he is one of my favorite people from those days. He’s a stand-up guy. He made the right choice. The critics need to understand two things …
ONE: anybody can choose to evacuate on their own. One of my sisters chose to do just that. There was plenty of warning. If you have a place to go, then get there as early as you can.
TWO: where was anybody expecting to go? This storm in particular, was (and still is) a big question mark. San Antonio? Austin? Dallas? There were chances all three might be affected. It is easy to “say” evacuation … but as Houston found in 2005 after Katrina and when Rita was threatening, there are a LOT of people in Houston. People were literally stranded in the worst traffic jam in history. And in this case it very well might have placed hundreds of thousands at serious risk of death or injury. Can you imagine being stuck in gridlock then slammed with a storm? And for all anybody knew, they might be going someplace worse. There was no clear track to this storm. Still isn’t. They’re pretty good with predictions but sometimes, these storms will basically make their own weather.
Twenty plus years ago, we thought we were high and dry here in central NC, 130 miles from the coast when Hurricane Fran threatened. It maintained hurricane strength all the way to Raleigh! It was one of the scariest nights of my life. Not so much flooding here, but trees were down EVERYWHERE and power was out for quite a while.
In short, these are natural disasters. Disaster is the action word here. It’s never going to be good.
Keep your thoughts and prayers with the people in harm’s way, especially my mom.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.