A Firsthand Account of Hurricane Harvey

The last time I was in a hurricane, I was four years old and remember a few things. We hid in a closet with the glow of a flashlight while wind howled outside. The next day I still remember seeing palm trees that had blown over and knew that it was a miracle, even though I didn’t know that word, that our house wasn’t hit.

My experience of Hurricane Harvey, was not boring in the least, despite being stuck in my house for nearly five full days. At first, there was the excitement that school had been cancelled  and we were getting a long weekend. Plus, I’ve always enjoyed storms when in the safety of a home. Once the initial excitement passed and I had a day to catch up on work, I realized that this was going to be a lot longer, and more boring, than expected. But then… Jesuit community! We rode out the storm while playing board games, cooking, and eating together. We were comfortable and happy, but certainly aware that a dangerous amount of water was coming down.

A couple days in, news started turning from what might happen, to what actually was happening. We lounged around a television, watching the water rising around Houston. It began pouring into people’s homes and the mood shifted from conviviality to seriousness, then gravity, then shock.

I vividly recall watching a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explain that they were going to be releasing water from the dams to prevent them from breaking. The amount of water in the reservoir was pushing it beyond the Corp’s capacity to keep it under control. It was surreal to think that our city had to systematically flood more homes to prevent unknown, but likely much worse, damage. An ethical analysis would be incredibly complex, but the bottom line is that everyone seemed to understand the necessity. The Army Corps of Engineers has not been excoriated for making that difficult decision.

Five days after it began, Hurricane Harvey moved north, leaving a sopping wet community in its wake. We’ve spent all the time since then trying to assess the extent of the damage and letting the realization sink in of how much time recovery will take. It has been terrible, wonderful and in my better moments, awe-inspiring to see the aftermath. The destruction is terrible; the goodwill and energy among volunteers is wonderful; both of them are awe-inspiring. 

The rivers have run through our city and carried with them our security.  No one could have predicted who was going to be hit and how badly. There’s fear in that recognition, yet the response by people has overwhelmingly been one of optimism and energy as resources are mobilized. People are working industriously and with hope already. Even people who are in need of aid are making efforts to give back at the same time. As one lady said to me on a visit, “This is just another storm. Storms come and go. New life comes after every storm. We are going to come back stronger.”

It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there and a lot of help from each other. From what I’ve seen, there is no reason to doubt she’s right.

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To read Marc Fryer, SJ’s account of praying for his hometown of Houston, click here.

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Cover image courtesy National Museum of the U.S. Navy, found here.

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