“Are you OK?”
Fielding this question has become a routine part of my day, as has been asking it. Emails, texts, and social media posts started pouring in Friday and are still trickling in, mirroring the rainfall over the last few days. I usually include details about conditions and tell them we were well prepared. But the basic answer was the same.
“We are OK.”
Much of my tribe doesn’t live in Texas, so they watched Harvey unfold from the outside, with only the national media to show them what was happening. They also know that we live very close to the water, near cities with names like Seabrook, El Lago, La Porte, and Taylor Lake Village. So they were understandably concerned.
So were we. Harvey was our first. We had seen what happened with Katrina and Ike on the news years ago. But now we were in it. In the days leading up to landfall, our friends who had been here before started doing things that clearly indicated that warnings were not just media hype. So we collected our emergency supplies to hunker down and packed go-bags in case we were forced to evacuate.
The rain started to fall and then it started to pour and then it didn’t stop. Emergency alerts blared for days. At one point we were told multiple times to simultaneously seek higher ground and shelter in a ground floor interior room in the middle of the night. Since our street was clear we waited out the tornado warnings in the closet under the stairs and watched the online feed of the water levels at the Harris County Flood District gage at the bayou blocks from our house. The banks were quickly breached but still, our street was clear, despite over 13” of water that fell between midnight and 6am. Our power was still on. Our water was still good. We were OK. The only problem was that the sewers were full of bayou, not allowing us to put much down the drain. That meant, laundry, showers, dishes, and especially the toilet was a NO-GO if we didn’t want it backing up into the house. No showers, paper plates, peeing in the backyard and constantly checking the sewer to see if it was safe to flush the toilet. That was one of only two minor inconveniences we had during Harvey. We were OK.
We also couldn’t leave. The super neighborhood of Clear Lake, south of Houston, is made up of what seems like a million small cities and municipalities, most of which were cut off not only from the city, but also from each other due to high water on the roads. Clear Creek at I-45 received some of the largest rainfall totals coming in at over 48 inches in 4 days and water gushed across the highway, essentially severing the major traffic artery. Most of us couldn’t leave our neighborhoods and some couldn’t even leave their homes. We texted and scrolled through social media feeds. “Are you OK?”. Thankfully, they were; some were not completely dry, but they were safe. We watched as the roads and bayous filled to capacity and then filled some more.
While highways, landmarks, and parks sank beneath, the people rose like the brown murky water around them. Never in my life have I witnessed humanity like I have in the past 5 days. People helping people, because they are just that, people. Shelters have more volunteers and donations than they can handle. Every able person is doing something.
But it was clear that many people around us were not OK.
Enormous efforts are underway in the City of Houston; shelters with thousands of beds at the George R. Brown Convention Center and NRG stadium and major fundraising benefiting the city. Yet although champions like J.J. Watt have raised millions of dollars for Houston relief, it is unclear if any of that will trickle south with the receding water toward heavily impacted rural areas. Many of the hardest hit areas south of town not only fall outside the Houston city limits but also outside Harris County. Dickinson, Santa Fe, and Hitchcock all reside in Galveston County to the south and all were severely impacted. Down here, there is no central location for people to go and no central response due to the multitude of small municipalities that each govern their small piece to the gulf coast. Compounding that was the fact that many of the city governments were themselves, underwater, with no J.J. Watt of their own to bail them out.
The response has become a chaotic combination of small government agencies like police and independent schools districts, religious and community organizations, businesses, and neighbors eager to do something, anything. Because efforts are small and disjointed by comparison, official organization and communication of needs are limited. The resources just aren’t available. Almost all communication is word of mouth, texts and random Nextdoor or Facebook postings that fly by as your feed populates with more news. A couple friends ended up at the Hometown Heroes Park shelter in League City and ended up “spearheading the laundry washing campaign,” shuttling bedding between the shelter and three local hotels who donated the use of their industrial washing machines for six and a half hours. And by “spearheading” it turned out that it was the two of them in a Camry stuffed full of laundry driving around the Bay Area.
This morning I talked with the head of the Education Fund for Dickinson Independent School District. They seem to be leading the first wave of relief in the area with 11,000 students and their families—many without insurance—that need care, comfort, and relief. She sounded upbeat and awestruck. She was OK. Words failed us both as we discussed the outpouring of support from the local community and those further afield. She was amazing she had been able to talk to an actual person at Facebook where they offered to waive all processing fees for donations collected through their fundraising page and is depositing money directly into their account rather than waiting the standard 60-75 days.
This afternoon I helped muck out an elderly couple’s home that was two homes in from Dickinson Bayou. They were rescued from their attic by neighbors in boats as 4.5 feet of water invaded their home. I showed up today because their daughter is a friend of a coworker of a friend of mine who put out a call for help on Facebook. By the time I arrived, their church community had evacuated most of the furniture to the front yard where it will remain until it is hauled away as debris. Imagine, all the treasures in your life, first strewn haphazardly across your yard by strangers for the entire world to see and then carted off as debris.
But they were OK.
I talked to a neighbor a few houses up as I was leaving. She told me how lucky she was to only get 18” of water in her garage and only a little leaking through the weep holes in the house. She felt guilty for being so lucky. She was outside tossing pieces of the road into a pile so people could more easily get down the street.
She was OK.
This is what the response looks like down here, everyone trying to do what they can with what they have. No one seems to be in charge but it’s happening nonetheless. Some relief locations have phone numbers which they sometimes can answer. If you want to help out you just have to show up which makes it hard for me to answer the other question many of my tribe outside of Texas keep asking me: “How can we help?”
The best answer I can give is to first, financially support organizations doing work on the ground now. And second, support and push for legislation that saves lives and provides support to PEOPLE not only during disasters but also in their everyday lives.
Daniel J. Cohen has already listed a number of great resources here. Below are a few specific to the Clear Lake – League City area:
Rescue and relief organizations need money to deploy services and buy supplies on the ground where they are needed. Sending physical stuff isn’t helpful yet as there is no where to store it.
- Send money directly to friends or family you trust in the area to pay for supplies needed locally, or gift cards to give to shelters.
- Ask friends and family in the area what organizations or people they are working with because EVERYONE here is working with someone and donate there.
- If you are a member of a church or other national type organization, find a local chapter and see if they need funds.
- Dickinson Relief Fund – http://bit.ly/2wtM731
- Hitchcock Relief Fund – http://bit.ly/2wtK0fL
- School Districts are coordinating much of the relief in the area:
- Dickinson Education Foundation – http://bit.ly/2wu0WCC
Facebook is waiving all fees and is depositing money immediately into their bank account so 100% of money is getting to them right now
- Clear Creek ISD, Clear Creek Cares – http://bit.ly/2gpOjkh
- Texas City ISD, Foundation for the Future – http://bit.ly/2gq3PNm
- Dickinson Education Foundation – http://bit.ly/2wu0WCC
- Boys and Girls Harbor – http://bit.ly/2xDMhVR
Provides healthy, comprehensive residential care for children and families in crisis. They will be taking in an additional 12-14 children affected by the hurricane.
We’ll be OK. It will just take time.
More resources from the Indivisible Project about how you can help: Responding to Hurricane Harvey