In the Suburbs / A hurricane that will likely shatter the record books
For a moment, when the news reports came in about the havoc that Harvey created in towns and cities from Galveston to Houston, Texas, the fourth largest city in the nation, and beyond, I reflected on Hurricane Sandy’s wrath several years ago.
In that storm, while the New York metropolitan area was pummeled by flooding that impacted harbors, subway tunnels and waterways, the flooding and devastation from Harvey makes Sandy seem like a walk in the park.
We have close friends who live in Katy, Texas, a suburb of Houston, and so far they are reasonably safe. From what I learned, Katy has become more of a haven for evacuees and while pummeled by rain, the homes in this suburb have remained pretty dry.
Meanwhile, some 49 inches of rain have fallen in Houston alone, making this the largest amount of rainfall on record in the United States, according to weather experts. As of early this week, thousands of people were being rescued from flooded homes, especially by citizens and neighbors with boats.
I was moved by interviews of families who were trapped in waist-deep water or were forced to carry infants and young children to the roofs of their homes. One dad, for instance, said that he worried about being electrocuted in the water by appliances or lamps that were still on, despite the flooding.
There are no reports at this point on how many potential drowning victims there might have been, because people are being rescued very slowly. Houston’s police chief reinforced concern about the lack of information concerning victims and indicated that he was worried about how many bodies might be found when flood waters finally subside.
One broadcast newscast showed a nursing home where residents were sitting in water up to the handles of their wheelchairs. That scene was just beyond my comprehension and I could only hope that a rescue came quickly.
According to a piece in the Associated Press, “With nearly 2 more feet of rain expected on top of the 30-plus inches in some places, authorities worried that the worst might be yet to come. The piece quoted Edmond Russo, a deputy district engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Russo said, “The storm was generating an amount of rain that would normally be seen only once in more than 1,000 years.” The Corps of Engineers “was also concerned,” Russo added, “That floodwater would spill around a pair of 70-year-old reservoir dams that protect downtown Houston.” Sadly, I learned as I was writing this column that the floodwaters had already spilled over into the downtown area.
The Associated Press further reported that “The Houston Metro area covers about 10,000 square miles, an area slightly bigger than New Jersey. It’s crisscrossed by about 1,700 miles of channels, creeks and bayous that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles to the southeast from downtown.” That geography became a recipe for disaster in this storm.
I turned to my wife as we were watching these reports and said that I could tolerate just about anything Mother Nature could dish out, except for flooding. She immediately blurted out that she would rush to save all of her fabric for future quilts. I opted for pictures and albums to have for our children and grandchildren. And, of course, we would carry the dogs to safety.
It’s interesting how our priorities shift during this kind of a disaster. With Sandy, we only had to endure a week with no electricity in our Fairfield neighborhood, but none of our valuables were damaged.
There simply is no comparing our limited inconvenience from Sandy with the devastation and years-long rebuilding process that the victims of Harvey will have to face. Even more bizarre was learning from so many flood victims that since Houston had never flooded like this, they didn’t even carry flood insurance. I don’t even want to think about their recovery expenses and the years that FEMA will have to spend in the area.
I was at least heartened to learn that dogs and other animals in shelters around Houston have already been transferred to shelters in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I’m sure that many people will open their hearts and homes to these animals as a gesture of good will.
I can only hope that the number of victims of this devastating hurricane will remain low, the rain will stop by the end of the week and tropical storm Harvey will go away, remaining only a haunting memory of Mother Nature’s capabilities. There are numerous outlets for anyone to make donations and we iintend to do that also. For now, we can only pray that Houston will come back stronger than ever.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.