As Tropical Storm Harvey continues to batter Southeast Texas and floods the Houston area, everyday Texans are trying to keep their heads above water. Their homes are inundated, their neighborhood streets are under chest-deep water, and many roads and highways are completely impassable. Some are waiting for rescue, others are wading out on foot, most are bracing for massive rains that are expected to continue for days.
Commander Toney Wade and his Cajun Coast Search and Rescue team, a volunteer group from Louisiana, made it to Dickinson, Tex., where they rescued 25 people, some of whom were stuck in a two-story hotel.
Wade said that more than 10,000 people needed to be rescued in that area, which is halfway between Houston and Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico.
“It was really something — just something to see — trucks and cars you can barely see under the water,” he said in a telephone interview.
He and 16 other men and women, some with military and many with firefighter and emergency medical technician experience packed up and left to help with five shallow draft boats, a high-water rescue boat and one air boat.
“We train hard for this,” he said. “It’s what we do. And at first light tomorrow, we will back at it.”
— Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
‘A gush of water that came up too fast’
Nichelle Mosby stood up to her knees in floodwater in the parking lot of the Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Southwest Houston, grimacing with a towel over her head to block the rain.
“We were supposed to be leaving this morning — and this happened,” she said midmorning Sunday, looking out across a deluged parking lot toward the Residence Inn next door, which was flooded with more than two feet of water.
Mosby and six family members, including a 4-year-old girl, had come from Louisiana to visit relatives. When Harvey hit, they booked into the Courtyard and were now stranded with dozens of other guests.
“We went through Katrina, but this feels different,” she said. Instead of a gradual buildup of rising water, she said, “this was like a gush of water that came up too fast.”
Mosby stood among a few dozen cars in the parking lot, which were mostly flooded up to their windows. A few drivers had moved their cars to the only high ground, just in front of the lobby door. But as a hard rain continued to fall, the water seemed to be creeping toward the door as well — with the potential to flood the lobby.
Inside the lobby, families huddled around TVs playing the Weather Channel and local news, watching officials warn people to stay off city streets. Next to the hotel, the Braes Bayou raged downstream carrying large chunks of debris. Its level had risen 10 or 20 feet since the day before, swamping downstream bridges, plus all roads and a huge park close by.
For dozens of guests at the hotel, there was no way to leave. Water in the parking lot rose quickly to about three feet deep, and it was deeper out on the roadway, where several abandoned cars sat completely swamped.
In the lobby, John McMillian, 70, sat eating breakfast with his wife, Debbie McMillian, 64, and their daughter, Tara, 29.
They were in town so John McMillian could have five days of treatment for his leukemia at MD Anderson Cancer Center just down the road. He had three days of treatment and was supposed to have his fourth on Sunday, but now they were stranded.
“If push came to shove, we could always wade to the hospital,” he said.
“I’m not going to let him, don’t worry,” his wife added.
With the McMillians said they were prepared for a long stay in the hotel for the long haul because John McMillian needs his next two days of treatment. They had seen the reports about the impending storm, so Tara had packed them plenty of extra food and water at home in Beaumont, Tex.
“We knew this was a possibility,” Debbie McMillian said. “We’ve been through a lot of hurricanes, but we’ve never been stuck like this.”
She said her brand new Acura was underwater in the parking lot.
“I haven’t even made the first payment on it yet,” she said.
As people sat chatting quietly, phones buzzed with emergency signals urging people to take shelter because of a tornado watch. The entire Houston area has been under near-constant tornado warnings for two days.
Anual Wisdom and his wife, Sandra, from Oklahoma, sat eating breakfast a few tables away in the lobby. Their 39-year-old son had surgery for brain cancer at MD Anderson on Wednesday.
They arrived on Aug. 20 and parked their small RV at a campground about 14 miles up the road, but they haven’t seen it since. They spent the first few nights in the hospital room with their son, then when Harvey started pelting rain they couldn’t get back to their RV. So they spent Friday night sleeping in their car in the hospital parking garage, and moved to the Marriott Courtyard for Saturday night.
Their son was supposed to be released from the hospital Saturday, but doctors have now ordered him to stay there until the storm emergency passes. The Wisdoms want to be with him, but they are stranded at the hotel.
“We have prepped for the hotel room,” Sandra said. “We bought extra food and water, we came down here and bought snacks. We filled the bathtub with water so we can flush the toilet if we have to.”
They said they’d ridden out lots of tornadoes in Oklahoma in the past.
“But this is kind of crazy,” Sandra said. “It’s bad enough to have to come down when your son has brain surgery, but to have to go through a hurricane too is a little much.”
— Kevin Sullivan
The unicorn floatie
Since Thursday, Sarah and Eric Fisher prepared for his older brother’s wedding. It was supposed to be on Saturday at The Farmhouse in Montgomery, near Lake Conroe, just over an hour’s drive north of Houston.
It was supposed to be a weekend of fun. They’d rented a lake house. That explains the inflatable unicorn in Sarah’s car. But when news of Harvey stalling above the greater Houston area broke, guests called to say they couldn’t make it.
Vendors began to cancel. The bride was devastated. The wedding was postponed.
So Sarah and her husband and her parents, Laura and Tim Schuur, headed back to her parents’ home in Spring.
They made it just in time to move the furniture upstairs. The rain began and by 8 a.m., their house started to flood. It covered their hardwood floors, up to their ankles and closer and closer to the mailbox.
Like a year ago when their home flooded after a storm, Sarah, her husband and her parents knew they’d need to evacuate.
Jack, a poodle, and Daisy, a bulldog, came first on an inflatable tube that was meant to be pulled behind a boat on Lake Conroe.
Laura wore a pink inner tube around her waist. And that unicorn floatie, the one Sarah used at her best friend’s engagement party at the lake a few weeks ago, turned into a way to save her family’s possessions.
So they walked two miles, for nearly 20 minutes, in water that rose between their waists and their chests before they were rescued by family friends.
“In the last flood, we got about eight inches,” Sarah said. “This time, we think we’ll get double that.”
By now, the water is above the mailbox and the blue truck parked out front has water almost to the top of the cab.
But Sarah and her family are 15 miles northwest, at her grandfather’s home. There, the pups are asleep and her family is safe and the unicorn floatie is deflated under the covered back porch.
— Stephanie Kuzydym
Watching the floodwaters rise
Michael Peraza, 17, slept at a friend’s house Saturday night after watching the boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor. He awoke to messages from his mom telling him that water had started to seep into the house.
Michael and his friends walked each other home through flooded streets in Westfield. When he arrived, he was shocked to see several inches of water in the place he has called home for 10 years. His mother unplugged everything and collected a few treasured items while his sister called for help.
“My sister started calling as soon as it started flooding around 9 a.m., and nothing was getting through,” Peraza said. “We kept calling all the numbers that were listed on television.”
The family decided to leave on foot just after 4 p.m., with Peraza and his sister each carrying one of her children, ages 4 and 7. The family didn’t have a destination in mind, they just knew they didn’t want to be stuck in the house as the floodwater continued to rise.
“We just decided to leave on pure instinct,” Peraza said.
When they got to the end of Anice Street, where they live, they heard a horn and followed it. Around the corner, they spotted a high-water rescue truck staffed by local firefighters and Army Reserve members. The family joined nearly 20 other evacuees in the back of the truck and made their way to the Red Cross shelter at M.O. Campbell Center on Aldine Bender.
Peraza said that with more than 200 people already at the shelter, there wouldn’t be enough cots for everyone to sleep on, but that he was just happy to be safe and dry with his family.
— Brittney Martin
Every building damaged, no lives lost
Maureen Gordon, 53, was waiting at Port Aransas city offices to get to a shelter after her roof caved in and she fell on broken glass from her windows.
“I could never go through something like this again,” said Gordon, who has pieced together a living waiting tables and tending bar for the past 20 years in this resort town where shrimpers live
alongside wealthy second-home owners and surfers.
City Manager Ken Parsons said there were no fatalities in this town of about 3,800, which can swell to 70,000 on weekends. The past two days have been spent doing searches and rescues using dogs. No major injuries have been reported.
“Every building was compromised in some way, whether it was 3 percent or 100 percent,” Parsons said.
The city marina was destroyed and expensive yachts as well as small boats were sunk. Many boats washed up along the Main Street.
Now the city is working to plug numerous gas leaks and repair downed wires. Homeowners will be let back in during the next several days, but the 80 percent of residents who are second-home owners or renters will have to wait longer, he said.
Frank McDonald, 64, a surfer and disabled veteran who moved to Texas from La Jolla, Calif., took shelter in a city building with his two labs after his home was destroyed.
“I don’t know how I will survive this,” he said. “I even lost my surfboard in the storm.”
— Mary Lee Grant
Southwest Airlines flight attendant Allison Brown estimates that at least 50 flight attendants, a number of pilots, airport staff members and hundreds of passengers have been stranded at William P. Hobby Airport since at least 1 a.m. Sunday.
Brown said that the airport flooded so quickly that shuttles were unable to get to them, and that area hotels — which also were flooded—were unable to accommodate them. Police told them it would be unsafe to try to leave.
“Luckily, we have the restaurant staff or else we would’ve been stuck with no food,” Brown said. “Waters in the road are around four feet — minimum — surrounding the airport.”
— Brittney Martin
‘Everyone’s mad at that stupid guy Harvey’
In the town of Katy, police Lt. Howard Briner was posted at the HEB, a major grocery store.
“If you have to leave, please drive slowly because cars can flood a house when they drive up too fast,” he said. “We all need to respect each other and think about others right now.”
Inside the cavernous supermarket, Michele and Joel Antonini were in line with 20 sacks of groceries doing just that — thinking of neighbors they probably would be taking in from Grand Lakes, where they used to live.
Grand Lakes is already experiencing flooding because the bayous run through the neighborhood, and when they flood, often the reservoirs flood as well.
They bought a sheet cake, a roast, chips, hot dogs and hamburgers.
“We just want to be ready if they are hungry and can get out,” Michele said. “We just want to be ready to help.”
Amanda Picard, 35, a CrossFit trainer, said that she lives behind a creek, and that all her neighborhood lakes were flooded. She said she was making a grocery run in case the storm goes on for days.
“It’s gonna be a long haul,” said Amanda, who was shopping for spring mix and frozen pizza with her husband and 6-year-old.
Also, shelters are now being set up, including at the Fussell senior citizen center.
“Turn around, and don’t drive,” is what firefighter and paramedic Kyle Fritsche said, warning that if water goes halfway up a car’s wheel, “you will float.”
He brought a suitcase to work packed for what all departments are calling “a marathon, not a sprint,” and expected that the worst was still yet to come.
“Even after the rain, we have potential for some dangerous flooding for days,” he said.
The fear is more than 40 feet of water.
“Normally, we could count on the rain sinking into the ground,” he said. “But we are already at the total saturation point.”
He and his fiancee missed their anniversary, “everyone’s mad at that stupid guy Harvey.”
— Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
When your kid gets sick during a hurricane
Erica Stietenroth, 38, said she was in tears driving to find a pharmacy that was open to help her 8-year-old daughter, who had a 105-degree fever.
The emergency room on Saturday night didn’t have the drugs she needed for strep throat, so they wrote her a prescription. And a tornado was about to hit.
On Sunday morning, she started searching for open pharmacies. She found one inside a local grocery store, but the pharmacists weren’t able to get to work. Finally, an employee came in to shop for food and was given permission to mix her medication.
“I was crying my eyes out for my baby girl,” she said. “By the grace of God, that employee was there.”
For a lighter side: Donna Clark, 43, drove to 10 Starbucks locations in the Katy area Sunday morning, navigating flooding to get her caffeine fix.
All were closed. She was participating in a Starbucks contest in which she had to buy coffee on weekends between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to win free coffee for a year.
Today was the day she supposed to buy her final cup.
The teacher hugged her daughter in front of the closed Cinco Ranch Starbucks inside a Target store, which was open.
“Sadly, I’m acting like a child,” she laughed gently.
— Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
In a neighborhood recreation center on the far south side of Dallas, Rebecca Hernandez sat near a door that held back the first heavy rain from the storm she and her family left Houston to avoid. Hernandez, 35, didn’t want to wait around for floodwater to reach the front door of her home in North Houston as it did during Hurricane Katrina. So she, her husband, Gilbert, and their three children drove to Dallas on Friday night. With rent due in a few days, the family couldn’t afford to spend more than one night in a hotel, so they came here.
“We try to make this place as much like home as possible, said Angienetta Johnson, the phone-wielding leader of this rec center-turned-emergency shelter.
For some, that means making computers available for children who want to play video games. For Hernandez’s 2-year-old son, Gilbert Constantine, maybe some time watching “Kung-Fu Panda,” she said.
Normally a four-hour drive, the trek from Dallas to Houston took five for the Hernandez family. Now, it could take as many as eight, some here at the rec center say. Regardless, Johnson is ready. With degrees in engineering, mathematics and information systems — and 41 years developing spacecraft at NASA — there may be no better person to run this shelter.
“We’re starting small,” Johnson said, noting that perhaps 500 or so evacuees are in her shelter and one across town. “But we have plans to go up to 5,000, if need be.”
Hernandez and her family are among those who can count on the generosity of the volunteers such as Johnson, and despite the nonstop rain pounding on the glass, found humor in one situation.
Her father-in-law, who is in his mid-70s, called to say he was “fishing from inside the house,” in Dickinson, near Galveston.
Eventually, the Coast Guard rescued him from the roof of his home.
“We just laughed. He’s crazy,” she said.
A neighbor has told Hernandez that Harvey’s waters are at the family’s front door now — just as they were with Katrina. But Harvey isn’t done yet, with at least a dozen more inches expected to fall in Houston and elsewhere.
“We’re ready to go back as soon as they tell us it’s safe,” she said.
— Justin Glawe
Crossing the pond
Richard Whelan rested on his dark green umbrella, his month-old daughter, Marnie, strapped to his chest. His wife, Amy Whelan, wiped the water drops from her eyeglasses, a gesture she’d soon have to repeat.
In the five years they have lived in Houston, the Whelans have seen it flood three times, but never like this, never as bad.
They lived in an apartment complex a block off Buffalo Bayou and had walked toward Allen Parkway, a road that lines the Bayou to see the water that was flooding homes, parking garages and KHOU, the local news station.
Amy tucked her phone in her black raincoat. She was taking photos to send to family members in England. Richard is originally from London and Amy from Manchester.
Marnie was supposed to make her first trip across the pond with her mother on Saturday. When the Whelans saw the forecast, they tried to switch their flight out of George Bush Intercontinental Airport to Saturday night, but flights were canceled.
“We were supposed to be on a flight tonight, but there’s no chance,” she said.
She peers at her husband with a smile. He’s Mr. Safety. He has been watching the news and wondering why all of these people are trying to drive through high water.
“There’s a guy out there kayaking through it, which is kind of fun but again, I’m like, ‘What are you doing? Why are you kayaking?” Richard said.
He had been up since 7 a.m. helping residents at the apartment next door. He pushed a blue car up an incline out of an underground parking garage, where the water rose above the floodgates.
— Stephanie Kuzydym
A different sort of cruise
Passengers aboard the Carnival Freedom cruise ship are getting an extended vacation because of Harvey.
Instead of docking in Galveston on Saturday as scheduled, the ship stopped in New Orleans to take on fresh water and stock up on provisions.
“We are now on our way back to Galveston, but the Port of Galveston is still closed,” said Randy Turrentine, one of the ship’s passengers. “They say we may be out here until Tuesday morning.”
Turrentine says even if the ship manages to dock in Galveston, he and his family may still be unable to return to their home in Spring because of the ongoing flooding.
— Brittney Martin
‘We are lucky’
In Houston neighborhoods where water stayed in the streets and out of homes, residents turned out to marvel.
Susan Dickson, 71, rattled off the floods she’d seen in Houston since she moved here in 1968: Allison, Ike, Alicia.
“This is the worst because it’s not stopping,” she said. “I’ve not seen it go on and on like this before.”
Other neighbors agreed that in past storms, the streets filled and drained within hours. Not so this time.
“I’m wasting my time trying to unclog the intakes,” said Klaus Thoma, a 72-year-old lawyer, as he scraped as storm drain covers with a plastic rake, trying to speed the water along. But he feared it had nowhere to go. Waterways across the city, a publicly maintained drainage system, were all full as well.
“We are lucky,” he said standing in ankle-deep water. “Just think about the people getting rescued, who lost their homes. It’s horrible.”
— Dylan Baddour
Nursing home rescue
In Dickinson, seniors at La Vita Bella nursing home were rescued from waist-deep water.
Tyler Drummond, chief of staff for Mark Henry, a county judge in Galveston, said that photos of seniors, some in wheelchairs, under water were “real, yes; shocking but real.”
“All of those individuals are safe and sound now and in a Red Cross shelter,” he said in a telephone interview.
— Emily Wax-Thibodeaux