Expect the Unexpected.
Hurricane Harvey was a storm like no other. It was an unprecedented natural disaster. In the week leading up to Hurricane Harvey's landfall, meteorologists predicted 10-30 inches of rain over the course of 4 days. That prediction alone caused Houstonians to panic. We all prepared for the apocalypse, emptying grocery store shelves, filling bathtubs in case the city turned off the water, stocking our shelves with enough good to last for a week, buying more flashlights and batteries than one could ever need, piling sandbags at our front and back doors, etc.
As a native Houstonian, the last three years have had a huge impact on my heart and soul. I've seen the same neighborhoods destroyed by three floods...families forced to rebuild their lives three times over. I needed to do something to help, so Hurricane Harvey Families was born. I built the site to match volunteers, donors, and service providers with people in need of services and tangible donations from Hurricane Harvey in Houston and its surrounding areas.
In order to fully understand the very real need for a site like Hurricane Harvey Families, it's important to get a good grasp on exactly how devastating this storm was. For comparison, the 2015 Memorial Day floods brought 35 inches of rain over a 5-day period, flooding more than 13,000 homes and killing seven people. Just shy of a year later, the 2016 Tax Day floods brought 17 inches of rain over a 2-day period, flooding over 700 homes and killing eight people. (Source: Houston Chronicle - www.chron.com)
If you've lived in Houston for any number of years, you're familiar with flooding, so you prepare...and then you wait. As a Game of Thrones fan, I likened it to Jon Snow and his band of outcasts stranded on the island surrounded by ice and white walkers, with no way out and no other choice but to just sit and watch and either hope for the best or realize your doom. I get how difficult it is for those around the world who have never experienced a flood of this caliber to fully comprehend what the weekend of August 25th felt like. Thousands of Houstonians sat and watched as our back yards went from completely empty to water lapping up against sand bags at our back doors in less than an hour.
I'll just let that sink in for a moment.
That was the experience Houston had on both August 25th and 26th. Then the rain just kept coming, slowly and steadily...it didn't stop. Most hurricanes move on but Harvey just sat over Houston, dumping rain—HEAVY rain—for four days.
In comparison to the floods of 2015 and 2016, Harvey dropped 52 inches of rain on Houston. Harvey claimed the lives of at least 75 people and that number could continue to rise as water levels continue to recede and the grim discoveries of bodies are made.
Houston had prepared for a tropical storm but what came was incomprehensible—and still is. The rains stopped but the reservoirs were full and needed to be released in order to prevent the levees from breaking and to get them back down to normal levels in preparation for more rainfall. Homes that were in the clear from the rains suddenly were flooded in the early morning hours of Wednesday, August 30. I woke up, turned on the news and saw the north side of my neighborhood under water. Families and children on the same swim team as my son were being rescued by boat. My husband and I immediately got in the car and spent the next 3-5 hours walking through the flood waters, bringing people to safety. Those same homes were then under water for the next 10 days.
It was, in a word, devastating. Because I understand how hard it is to understand just what happened, here are some quick facts:
- Hurricane Katrina dropped 5-10 inches of rain in 2 days. Harvey dropped 52 inches of rain in 4 days.
- TWO reservoirs backed up, overflowed and had to be released, flooding thousands of homes that had been spared by the rainfall.
- The highways became waterways.
- Between 25 and 30 percent of Houston's Harris Count was flooded. That's an area as large as New York City and Chicago combined.
- Houston's school district said 75 of its 275 schools were closed due to flood damage. The district is the nation's 7th largest. (Source: Reuters)
- 1 million vehicles were ruined beyond repair. That includes 300,000 to 500,000 vehicles owned by individuals. (Source: USA Today)
- Harvey flooded 800 wastewater treatment facilities and 13 Superfund sites. That spread sewage and toxic chemicals into the flooded areas. (Source: The Washington Post)
- Flooding covered southeast Texas the size of the state of New Jersey. Thirty inches of rain fell on an area near the coast the size of the state of Maryland. (Source: The Washington Post)
- A foot and a half of water covered 70 percent of Houston's 1,800-square-mile Harris county. The shear weight of the water depressed the Earth's crust. Houston sank 2 centimeters as a result. (Source: Harris County Flood Control District)
Shining a light in a time of despair.
I had to do something to help. I felt helpless. I'd seen the devastation the last two floods brought and knew families who had literally just moved back into their homes 1-2 months ago after spending the last year rebuilding due to the Tax Day floods, homeless again. I knew this wasn't something that would be a quick fix. It was going to take a long time and no amount of government funding, Red Cross assistance or FEMA aid was going to get these families, my friends and neighbors, back up and running again.
What I saw in the first few days after the flood was incredible. I saw social media bringing people together to deliver food, transportation, cleaning supplies and assistance, baby products, etc. I saw strangers helping strangers, regardless of their socio-economic status or skin color. I saw church congregations quickly organizing committees to host donation drives and send out cleaning crews. Friends and strangers were sending goods to my own door step for me to deliver to those in need. You know what I saw?
I saw LOVE. And I saw so much of it.
I also saw a need. I saw a need to connect people for longer than just a minute on social media. I had friends contacting me from coast to coast, asking me what they could do to help. Those same friends have sent me money which I've donated directly to a family I know in need. People wanted to feel a connection to the families they were helping. They wanted more than to just make a financial donation. They wanted to join victims of this flood on their journey—to hold their hands and let them know it will all be okay. They wanted to form relationships to last a lifetime.
My goal in creating the Hurricane Harvey Families site was to provide that connection for people and to help take some of the worry off of the minds of these affected families. I've been overwhelmed by the generosity I've seen in the last two weeks. We've been able to match over 50 families in need with those able to help—and the submissions keep coming in.
There is so much more good to come of this and I can't say thank you enough to everyone who has helped me on this journey. Oh, and one last thing...
I've never been more proud to be a Texan and, more importantly, a Houstonian. As someone said, "There's more love than water in Houston."