By Jacque Havelka
Editor’s note: Jacque Havelka is a contributor to WND. This is her first-person account of surviving Hurricane Harvey.
Never underestimate the power of water. My parents drilled this mantra into my head as a young girl growing up in San Antonio in an area prone to flash floods. I’ve lived in Houston for 30 years, and as such, have lived through several hurricanes. The worst (until Harvey) was Hurricane Ike in 2008. Ike had 145 mph sustained winds, and the eye of the storm passed right over us. I had never experienced anything like it.
In Texas, we have sweet gum trees that produce ping-pong sized seed balls. Believe me, there’s nothing quite like a seed ball hitting your window at 145 mph. My husband and kids slept right through Ike, but my ever-watchful Jack Russell Terrier named Dude and I were awake through it all. Ike was here and then gone, then 15 days without power ensued.
We cooked meals on our outdoor grill and it was actually kinda fun (except for the heat and the humidity).
Harvey was different.
This storm assaulted Southeast Texas. It kept raining and raining and raining. It was the storm that wouldn’t go away, making three landfalls – two as a hurricane and one as a tropical storm. It rained for four days straight – no light showers, but sheets of hard, driving rain.
My home was literally surrounded by water. We had prepared, and intellectually you know you are not trapped forever. Still, being surrounded by water is very unsettling. We enacted our tried-and-true Ike plan of stocking up on propane tanks (and lots of meat) to cook outdoors when we lost power. We only lost power in fits and spurts, but our outdoor grill was surrounded by five feet of water, with our tanks floating to the top. So much for preparation, but I am eternally grateful that our home did not flood.
When it was all over, Harvey pulverized nearly 20 subdivisions in my northeast Houston area. Our high school sustained approximately $3 million in damage and will be closed the entire school year. Our school district combined two high schools into split days to accommodate all students. The storm destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Every building in our brand new town center shopping market flooded; some had not yet opened.
Our area is a small microcosm of the widespread damage in Houston. People who visit Houston for the first time remark at the vast size of the city. It encompasses 667 square miles, stretching from the south near Galveston Island to parts north like my town. Houston stretches from east to west, too, and is the largest southern city in the United States. A small suburb of Houston can easily have over 100,000 residents, and there are many of them sprinkled across this city built on bayous.
By now, we all know the weather details of Harvey. It is the most powerful storm to make Texas landfall in over 50 years. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott estimates the loss at over $180 billion, costlier than Katrina or Sandy.
What is even more remarkable than the weather event is the outpouring of kindness. I am truly humbled by the selfless acts of heroism I’ve witnessed over the last few days. These may not have received much national attention. We haven’t watched television because we’ve been too busy helping friends gut their homes, ripping out sheetrock and insulation, and washing clothes and dishes.
My neighbor first reached out to us Tuesday morning August 29, assuming we’d been flooded. They begged us to take refuge in their home, despite already having other houseguests who were rescued by the amazing Cajun Navy team at 3 a.m. They airboat-rescued my friend’s tiny 95-year-old mother, dressed in her grandson’s fishing waders and carried to the boat by two strong men. I’m told that she remarked she hadn’t experienced anything like it since World War II!
People could have stayed dry and safe in their own homes. Instead, anyone with a personal watercraft of any kind – boat, jet ski, or kayak – -joined in the rescue, like my high school neighbor, Braden. Water treatment personnel slept in the plant for five days to ensure a steady water supply.
We’ve met Texans from cities big and small, like Flower Mound police, who volunteered to come help. We met first responders from Pennsylvania, Utah and Tennessee, to name a few. My favorite was the cooking team from Stone Energy in Lafayette, Louisiana; their team cooked Cajun meals for five days straight. One day, they made 2,000 sausage po’boys for lunch. When I delivered their food to neighborhoods, I was the most popular girl on the block.
The outpouring of selfless acts has been tremendous and surreal. Late at night when I couldn’t sleep because of high stress levels and even higher caffeine levels, I thought about everything I had witnessed, and realized that it all reflects the America I know and love. It is also the America that is rarely depicted in the mainstream media.
Time stands still when you’re in a situation like Harvey. You live in a vacuum. Your only focus is on local news. There’s no time to watch antifa groups destroy Confederate statues or spread their violence on college campuses. I remember wondering how many antifa were in Houston lending a helping hand. I’m guessing not many.
Churches often get bad press and Christians aren’t always painted in the best light, yet our local churches were the first to respond to the need. When there was a miscommunication that a school was a shelter, a church across the street accommodated 300 evacuees to alleviate the burden on the school. They didn’t have to do it, but they did it anyway. For days and days, local churches have sent work crews to demolish homes. Our local churches have been the cornerstone of our relief effort.
I saw a news clip of a reporter asking Trump’s press secretary if they were going to rescue illegal immigrants or turn them away at shelters. Idiots. I can tell you for certain that I never witnessed anyone using criteria to decide whether they’d lend a hand. People just did what was needed. Our school district of 42,000 students is 33 percent economically disadvantaged. Do you think we took a survey at the shelter doors?
Our town is now dealing with Harvey’s aftermath: flooded homes and cars, the stench of debris piles, and worries about FEMA and flood insurance, which 80 percent of Texans don’t have. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick visited a home in Beaumont that was destroyed. The lady of the house said, “Mr. Patrick, if I’d known you were coming, I’d have cooked dinner for you.” Yep, that’s the Texas I love.
There is heartbreak beyond measure, like the despondent police captain who had to leave the body of a drowned officer to keep other officers out of danger. Or the person who died in a flash flood, clinging to a cart return in a store parking lot. Or the two elderly people who died in my friend’s neighborhood after local rescuers could not reach them.
A local news report showed a long line of cars that appeared to be stranded, until the field reporter clarified that cars had come from miles around to rescue patients from a flooded hospital. In Houston, there are lines of people ready to volunteer and give, rather than lines of people waiting to take handouts from the government.
I’ve spent many a teary night in sadness for friends who have lost so much. There is nothing like visiting a home with every single possession out on the lawn to dry. My friend Carol’s house was the first house I went to; all 110 homes in her subdivision were flooded with over four feet of water. Every single one.
Everyone is physically and emotionally exhausted. There are not enough resources and never enough time to help everyone. Choosing is so hard. I’ve been to several neighborhoods delivering close to 1,000 meals to help people who can’t take the time to eat. All the neighborhoods look the same – total destruction. It’s hard to show strong support when you’re fighting back tears.
The work never ends, and those of us who didn’t flood have overwhelming guilt. But Texans push on, getting up every day to try to help a neighbor in need.
We’re stronger for this experience. We’ve reconnected with neighbors and bonded with new ones, and I’d love for these changes to be permanent and resonate across our great nation.
Harvey unloaded more than 20 trillion gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana. To put it into perspective, this amount of water would supply New York City for more than 50 years. But George W. Bush summed it up nicely when he said to CBS News, “People are hurting down here. But as one Texan put it, we’ve got more love in Texas than water.”