Hurricane Harvey: UMHB students share their thoughts about life after the storm
It has been a little over a year since devastation wreaked havoc in the Houston area. What started as a small tropical storm quickly became a category four hurricane, causing a large loss of life and property. On August 17, 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit on the eastern coast of Texas.
According to the Houston Public Media from the University of Houston, the hurricane caused at least 72 fatalities. The rise in water was measured at 12.5 feet at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge. According to worldvison.org, 135,000 houses were affected by Hurricane Harvey as many people lost their homes and everything they owned.
Harvey also became the second most expensive hurricane in the United States since 1900 (worldvision.org). Fox news estimates an average of 154 billion in damages across the state of Texas as a result of the storm.
Sarah Harvey, who just happens to have the same last name as the name of the storm, is a senior marketing major at UMHB, whose hometown, Port Neches, was heavily affected.
“The night Hurricane Harvey hit, it was controlled chaos,” Sarah said. “Everyone who had a boat was out in the floodwaters rescuing people from their homes that had filled with water. My family made it up to our church, where my mom was on staff at the time. The gym at the church hadn’t flooded, so it became a shelter in the area. The rains didn’t stop and the flooding continued all through the night. For days after that, the water didn’t go down. I felt so helpless because I was here in Belton.”
In response to the disaster and all the people in need, various communities came together to help one another. Brianna Flanter, a freshman biology and pre-dental major, witnessed her neighborhood and the surrounding cities outside of Houston band together to create a bit of light in this dark time.
“I actually live about 30 minutes outside of Houston so everything around us got flooded,” Flanter said. “All my neighbors, friends, and family got water in their houses. However, even in literal high water, everyone stayed extremely positive. Rescue boats from people in our town, other towns, and even other states came to help us out.”
“When the flooding dried out, people immediately started helping people demo their homes and donating at shelters. Most of the shelters in Houston actually couldn’t even accept more food. Houston really came together and it made me really emotional.”
Both Flanter and Sarah Harvey became involved in the helping process, assisting in various ways.
“My high school was working really hard to put on a musical that was supposed to open the week after Harvey hit,” Flanter said. “The hurricane came as a surprise and we now had two weeks to put on this show. Everyone worked really hard to put this on because we knew if we would be able to pull it off it would allow an escape for some people who might have lost their homes. We successfully put on the show and the story was so inspiring that the Texas Thespian Festival in Dallas invited us to perform in front of 10,000 people. It was overwhelming to see sold-out shows in our hometown as well as a huge theatre in Dallas. We knew what we were doing was bigger than us. It was a way of recovery for some people.” In addition to working with the musical, Flanter also donated food and helped shelters organize their abundance of supplies.
“My community came together immediately to help get people out, then gut homes, then help rebuild homes,” Sarah said. “All of this process went on for about 3 months after the hurricane. It was insane to watch it from the outside. Not only did my community come together, but there were people from states all over who drove their boats down to help, then drove down teams to help rebuild. It still gives me chills to see how many people came together.”
“The day after the hurricane hit, I started posting on social media that I was taking donations and was planning a trip down to help my family,” Sarah said. “I loaded up my 2005 Ford Escape to the rim with supplies donated by friends, professors and people in the Central Texas community I didn’t even know.”
Sarah explained that what would have been a five-hour drive turned into an 11.5-hour drive due to the flooding. Once she arrived, she worked at the temporary shelter created in the church gym. For the next 3-4 weekends, she would drive back home to help gut houses and rebuild them.
“It was painful to watch, but life-changing to be part of,” Sarah said.
How are things now that a year has passed since the hurricane hit? Many people have chosen to elevate their homes at a gigantic average of 75 dollars per square foot, which does not even cover fixing internal home repairs (texastribune.org).
Other residents, especially low-income families, have had difficulty fixing their homes. An article on the Politico website written on May 29, 2018, reported that “nearly every street of the 10,000-person neighborhood [Kashmere Gardens] has homes that are gutted.”
Politico also reported that “numerous low-income families were denied funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency because much of Kashmere Gardens was in a flood zone, and homeowners were thus required to carry flood insurance — a law that many of them were unaware of.”
In addition, Houston government officials are still in the process of finding ways to create a new reservoir that will prepare the city for any future floods. In March of 2018, Brays Bayou was expanded due to a “$500-million flood-control project” (latimes.com).
Despite the costs and repairs, the community continues to stand with each other and help in any way they can. Although things will never be quite the same as before the hurricane struck, there is still a vast amount of hope around the Houston area.
“One year later and every time it rains and the streets start flooding, most people have flashbacks to Harvey,” Sarah said. “I have friends that are still rebuilding – haven’t made it back into their home. The community is still tight-knit even though things are back to “normal” as much as they can be. We’re a year down the road but we’ll never be back to where we were before it happened. It truly altered who we are as a community.”