Capital Weather Gang • Perspective
We still don’t know how to talk about floods
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Houston took them in after Katrina. Then Harvey hit.

Widespread flooding covers Interstate 45 on Sunday in Houston. (Richard Carson/Reuters)

Jude McFarland and Candace Victor had climbed into the attic of their New Orleans home to escape the flooding of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 when her water broke.

McFarland carried his wife through neck-deep water for hours until he found an Army vehicle to take them to a hospital across the Mississippi River. A doctor, dressed in cut-off jeans and slippers, told the expectant father to get ready to catch the baby, McFarland recalled.

The couple named her Miracle.

Twelve years after Miracle's birth, the McFarlands are escaping rising flood waters again with Hurricane Harvey. This time, the couple have three children, including 8- and 9-year-old sons.

'The craziest thing I've ever seen': Houston residents assess storm damage

The family moved to an emergency shelter in San Antonio on Wednesday, when they evacuated their home in Corpus Christi, Tex., ahead of Hurricane Harvey.

McFarland spent Monday with other evacuees trying to catch a glimpse of their abandoned homes on the news while the children were entertained by a magic show. He does not know the extent of the damage to their first-floor apartment, only that the power is out and that there’s been a flood.

“I’m just trying to be strong for my family,” said McFarland, 41. But he expects the worst. "I thought we were okay, and now we have to start all over again.”

Tuesday marks the 12-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As many as 250,000 people from New Orleans landed in Houston after the disaster, and between 25,000 and 40,000 eventually made the city their home, according to the New Orleans Association of Houston, a nonprofit established to support former Louisianians who resettled in the area after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

As the storm moved toward south-west Louisiana this week, residents in Lake Charles and other communities were beginning to evacuate.

Most of the evacuees from Katrina in 2005 were African American. Many were poor. Families resettled in Houston because they felt their adopted city offered higher-paying jobs, better schools, a safer environment to raise children and more affordable housing, which had become scarce in New Orleans because public housing developments destroyed by Katrina were never replenished, said Mtangulizi Sanyika, chairman of the New Orleans Association of Houston.

Sanyika, a retired public policy and African studies professor from New Orleans, migrated to Houston after Katrina because his wife, a pastor, found a better job as a spiritual care educator training hospital chaplains. They live in a new subdivision in Houston that has not been flooded, but he said, “We are under domestic house arrest” because the major roads around his neighborhood are underwater.  

Brian Greene, who once headed the New Orleans food bank, also moved after Katrina, and is now president of the Houston Food Bank.

On Monday, he, along with his dog and cat, were trapped on the second floor of his home, which had flooded up to three feet. At one point, the bed and other furniture were floating through the house, he said.

Greene housed half a dozen of his neighbors, who live in single-story homes, until volunteers came by on a boat Sunday night, extricated them from a second-story window, and ferried them to emergency shelters.

He had sent his wife and two elementary-aged children to San Antonio ahead of the hurricane. Greene stayed behind to make sure food could be distributed to emergency shelters, but on Monday, the food bank was surrounded by water.

“We didn’t realize we would be cut off for this long,” Greene said. “Normally the storm would be gone by now, and you would be able to do your resupply work. We are put on this rotten time delay because the darn thing won’t leave.”

For many families, he said, the long-term impact of Harvey will be devastating. But Greene said his flood insurance coverage should cover most of the repairs to his house. And he has already found another house to rent, beginning mid-September.

Other former New Orleanians are bracing for the worst.

Destiny Wilson was just 9 years old when Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, knocking down trees and power lines around the apartment complex where she lived with her mother. With no power and the parking lot flooded, Wilson and her extended family who had come to her mother’s place to ride out the storm stayed put for at least three days.  

“Then we ran out of food and supplies and realized no help was coming,” Wilson said. “We got out of there the first chance we got.”

In Beaumont, Tex., strangers saw their Louisiana license plate at a gas station and gave them cash for a hotel room, where they stayed for a week. They ended up settling in Houston, where extended family members had received apartment vouchers after being evacuated.

Now 21, Wilson lives with her mother, who got a job as a school bus driver and made enough money to buy their first home. Wilson is in college, studying to be a pharmacist.

While their street is flooded, water has not seeped into their home — yet. Wilson and her mother are keeping close watch on the rising bayou behind their house, which sits on a hill.

“The bayou is full to the top. Seeing all the water around the house, it’s crazy,” Wilson said. “It’s like reliving Katrina all over again. We can’t even go nowhere. It’s just too much water.”

Wilson and her mother have been without power for four days. They charge their cellphones in the car and used their gas stove to cook ground beef and pasta before the meat spoiled.

“We are trying to wait it out. We have water and ham sandwiches,” Wilson said. “I learned at a young age to value family and not material things, because we lost everything in Katrina.”

Read more:

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