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On Hurricane Harvey, Evacuations and Resilience

Aug 27, 2017
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On Hurricane Harvey, Evacuations and Resilience

As I write this, my hometown is suffering through what is likely the worst flood in Texas recorded history. People outside of Houston are amazed that the city did not evacuate. Some are politicizing the fact that the city and county did not call for mass evacuations. But most of that second guessing seems to be from out-of-state observers. From what I see and here, Texans are too busy taking care of themselves and aiding neighbors to be too concerned with politicking.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? I first heard of Tropical Storm Harvey as I was busy working Wednesday. There was some talk it could become a Category 1 Hurricane. Houston is an hour inland from the coast. A Category 1 Hurricane is a bit of a laughing matter here. Maybe its gallows humor, but Harvey (possibly named after an invisible 6’4” rabbit) initially sparked more levity than panic. On Thursday night, the word was that Harvey may become a Category 3. I asked my go-to Coonass if I needed to board my windows. “Nope”. Should I at least tape them up for extra support, “Nope”. (Taping windows is a thing). I was content that we had ample water, provisions and some gas for the generator. However, late Thursday night family in Fort Worth lobbied us to stay with them. They were spooked that Harvey had upgraded to a Category 3 and the weather system would stall out over Houston. The latter caught my attention. Houston floods. Badly. I wasn’t worried about the hurricane making landfall, I was worried about the possibility of tornadoes and the likelihood of being without power and the all-important internet for days on end. So, Friday morning, the decision was made to head for the hills. We didn’t leave out of fear. We left to ensure we didn’t miss out on creature comforts like air conditioning and internet service.

When we left at noon on Friday, there were no calls for evacuation. The roads had average traffic. Nobody seemed panicked. Should more people have evacuated?

The Blame Game. Areas around the Texas coast were under mandatory evacuation earlier this weekend. One local sheriff famously told townsfolk who refused to evacuate to write their names and social security numbers on their arms so their corpses could be identified. May sound tough, but its tough love. Unlike the coastal communities, most of Houston was not under mandatory evacuation. Instead, people planned to shelter in place (and have small hurricane parties). As I mentioned above, I have seen some non-Texans questioning why more Houstonians didn’t evacuate. Memories of Hurricane Rita explain why most didn’t evacuate.

As we drove out of town on Friday, we retold our sons stories of being stuck in traffic fleeing Hurricane Rita. That day in 2005, the drive from Houston to Waco took thirteen hours. Memories of the great Rita traffic jam probably convinced most Houstonians to shelter in place. More people died in that traffic jam than have died in this storm so far.

Live With Your Decision. I have a bit of “survivor’s remorse”. As I watch the news and talk with friends, I realize I have dear friends who are in harms way. Neighbors in our surrounding neighborhood had major damage to their homes because of tornadoes. There’s part of me that wants to be among the heroes helping neighbors and strangers. However, I made the right choice for me and my family (even if my friends scoffed at me at the time for leaving for such petty reasons). And just now, I have learned that the levees in my neighborhood may not hold back the overflow from the Brazos. I am thankful that I don’t face the prospects of being rescued with my wife, sons and dogs.

Texas Resilience; Cajun Assistance. 2017 has been a year of unrest and hatred. Not in Houston (the most diverse city in the Country), and not today. I am seeing so many tales of heroism, selflessness, and neighborliness. Texans are rescuing their neighbors from flooded cars and homes by every improvised way possible. Earlier today, Houston put on its own rendition of Dunkirk as it called private boat owners to assist with rescues. The Cajun Navy has joined the efforts. First responders from my place of refuge, Fort Worth, are on their way to help Houston. I am proud of my city, but also very anxious for my friends still there.

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