When Category 4 tropical storm Harvey made landfall on August 25, 2017, no one expected history in the making. Residents of Rockport, Texas observed 130 mph vortex winds, and soon, a large swath of Texas braced for the first hurricane to strike it and the surrounding Gulf of Mexico since Wilma in 2005.
Since Harvey’s dissipation over the arid plains of Central Texas, government environmental researchers and emergency responders are still calculating the depth of the hurricane’s damage. Loss has been estimated up to 75 billion dollars, according to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, making this the costliest natural disaster in US history.
Jonathan Smiddy, resident of the Wedgewood suburb of Houston, witnessed the devastation firsthand.
Smiddy said the water was two inches from entering his home and the houses on his lot. He said that there are around 1150 homes in the neighborhood, and about a third of those are filled with four feet of water. He further commented on the flood damage that rendered his children’s middle school inaccessible.
Todd Bower, another Texas resident from nearby Fulshear, lives adjacent to the Brazos river.
“At one point, we were getting five or six inches of rain per hour,” Bower said. “As more rain filled the Brazos, the river crested, bringing the water up four feet.”
Bower and his family moved all their furniture up to the second floor and hoped the water would subside.
Both local and governmental support for Houston and the surrounding area during and after the disaster have received mixed responses.
“People with boats started pulling residents out of our neighborhood,” Smiddy said. “The government provided air support, but if not for those average people, a lot of flood victims would’ve been hurt in a big way.”
Smiddy described the complex flood insurance situation many affected by the rising waters now face. “My neighborhood isn’t on the 500-year floodplain, so none of us have flood insurance. We’re at the mercy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There’s a $33,000 cap, and the government is notoriously bad about providing it,” Smiddy said.
Concerns about the ability of authorities and local groups to provide for the overwhelming need for food, water, and shelter have mounted, especially since it comes on the heels of last year’s hundred-year flood, an event that flooded portions of Texas with nearly 20 inches of rain.
“My parish is a designated center for the Galveston Food Bank. If someone loses their house or their car, these kinds of places provide monetary support. Parishioners are opening up their homes to two or three families per house. That’s the Texas way. Texas has taken this disaster in stride,” Smiddy said. Smiddy described several Texas residents outside the doors of his church one morning after Mass. “There are just so many people to keep track of, we just can’t post it.”
Many have used Harvey as an excuse to blame certain individuals for their lack of willingness to help in the effort, casting aspersions on religious figures like Joel Osteen or political figures like Houston mayor Sylvester Turner. “The mayor has gotten grief for not forcing evacuations for everyone. But everyone getting out on the highway can be just as dangerous. I don’t fault the authorities,” Bower said.
Rather than casting blame, humanitarian groups like the American Red Cross have raised support through various means, including a Donate feature on Facebook’s front page. Smiddy also has other suggestions. “Donate directly to GoFundMe pages for people who’ve lost their homes, vehicles, or other property. Another interesting solution is to donate sheet rock and dry wall,” Smiddy said.
Hurricane Harvey is the first of perhaps several record-breaking natural disasters to strike America during in 2017. Predictions about upcoming Tropical Storms Irma and Juan, as well as fires throughout the Midwest and a recent earthquake in Mexico, leave many with concerns about the future. “Continue to pray for recovery,” Bower said.
NOAH FRANZ – Life Styles Editor