As the Houston area was pummelled with dozens of inches of rain from Hurricane Harvey, residents who didn’t live in an evacuation zone were told to shelter in their homes, in many cases cut off from the outside world by flooding that blocked streets.
Cortnee Sabio, a law-school student who lives in the Houston area, and her husband Joshua spent five days trapped in their home amid the storm and flooding. The house itself was mostly spared, but the water reached waist-deep heights on their street. Their yard flooded.
“It has literally felt like one long day until yesterday,” Sabio told Business Insider on Thursday. “The storm hit Friday night and we got our gas, everything, and food and we went inside … and did not leave the house for five days.”
Sabio said she and her husband didn’t realise how bad the storm would get until Saturday.
“All of a sudden it started raining torrentially and did not stop,” she said. “By Saturday night, we were peering out our windows, water was rising and we were like ‘is this real life.'”
Sabio described the experience as “surreal.”
“The shock that you feel when you think you’ve got it all figured out and then you can no longer see the islands in the middle of the street … it was wild,” she said.
Experts are calling Harvey a 500-year flood, meaning there is a 1-in-500 annual chance that something like this could happen. Since 500-year floods are so rare, cities don’t always prepare for that kind of worst-case scenario.
Houston has seen three 500-year floods in the past decade — in 2009, 2015, and 2016. The city’s flat geography, outdated (and in some areas, blocked) drainage systems, and a recent construction boom have made it especially vulnerable to hurricanes.
The water that flooded Sabio’s street is now gone, and on Thursday the sun was shining. But many property owners in the Houston area will be returning to severely damaged homes, and it’s so far unclear what the city’s plan is to rebuild. President Donald Trump said Friday that his administration would in short order make a request for disaster relief to Congress.
Sabio said that during the storm itself, communication between counties broke down — the Houston metropolitan area is one of the country’s largest and most spread out, and mix-ups about which areas needed to evacuate contributed to the chaos.
Sabio said some people in her area had “no water in their homes, no water in the streets, but they’re still under mandatory evacuation because they’re within a foot of the potential crest level” of a reservoir.
“People have been leaving to go get groceries, and they’re not letting people back into the subdivision,” Sabio said. “People were freaking out.”
She said she relied on Reddit to get most of her storm information.
“Reddit was moving way faster and had way more accurate information that I saw on TV,” she said. “Reddit was a lifesaver.”
“Everyone I know is on Reddit because that’s where all the information was, and it was a huge, huge, huge help.”
Sabio recounted her experience in Facebook posts as the storm was ongoing. We’ve published them below with her permission.
Preparations for the hurricane are in place. It’s actually been raining throughout the day here in Richmond (and pretty heavily sometimes) so it kinda feels like things have already “started” even though it’s still a few hours away.
Just got back from driving around the Sugar Land/Richmond area with. So far, all is well. Our area got hit pretty hard overnight in terms of rain and wind, but there hasn’t been too much damage that I’ve seen. I’m sure during the early morning hours there was some street flooding, but as of 10 a.m., nothing was on the roads. Retention ponds and creeks are high, but that is to be expected. Our power has remained on, so everything is pretty ok in our part of town. Kroger and HEB appear to be open and stocked.
Things have certainly changed since yesterday. Joshua and I are fine, as well as our house. But there is a CATASTROPHIC level of flooding happening in our city right now. And it is still raining torrentially with no end in sight! Like the rest of Houston, we are stuck where we are. We are stocked up on food and water and our power is still on. But we won’t be able to venture too far from our house for several days. This has become an unbelievable, life-changing event for a majority of the city.
In a dramatic turn of events, it looks like our house might take on water. We have moved all of our important things upstairs. It has been raining torrentially, nonstop for the past 2 hours. I remember when we built our house, we picked this area specifically because it’s on a 500-year flood plane. They told us that it would never flood. Welp. This is literally one of the most surreal moments of my life.
As of 6:30 a.m we are still dry and safe with electricity. The water has receded a few inches but is still waist deep at the bottom of our driveway. All of the roads leading to our neighbourhood have been washed out as well, so at this point we are going to stay put.
We have plenty of food and water to last us for the next few days. Our biggest concern going forward is living in a place that could be essentially cut off even once the storm passes (no open gas stations, grocery stores) due to the evacuations happening both directly north and south of us. We will just have to wait and see. This has been a humbling and surreal last few days. We are considered lucky by the current standards. There are still many, many, people trapped in their homes — and in some cases on their ROOFS — with no food, water or protection from the elements. The storm is also heading back over the gulf to make a second landfall as we speak. And my heart is literally breaking right now for all of those may not get rescued before then.
The news item that has not been talked about that needs to be talked about: Fort Bend County is requiring mandatory evacuations during a flash flood situation and they are doing it without sending anyone here to help people get out. Not to mention they decided to release the reservoirs without sending people to those neighbourhoods to help them evacuate. The roads are all flooded. Many of us can’t even leave our driveways! Where are we supposed to go? The lady on ABC13 who is driving around on a boat rescuing people is just a few streets away from my neighbourhood. Unbelievable.
Joshua and I are still holding it down on our little island. Still flooded all around but no water in our house thankfully. We lost power for a bit but it returned this afternoon. Earlier this morning we also saw the fire department rescue a medically fragile person at the house around the corner from us, which was great to see because the lady who lived there had been asking Josh about getting help since last night. And to those who keep asking me why we don’t evacuate like others in Fort Bend and Richmond: please see my earlier post. There is nowhere for us to go. Our home isn’t under immediate threat like others. So there is no use in us burdening first responders or shelters if we have what we need here. We will be fine.
The weather should ease tomorrow, and we plan to assess what our go-forward plan is from there.
Lots of good news to report this morning. It has FINALLY stopped raining (apart from a light drizzle). There is no more water in our yard and the water in our coul-de-sac at the end of the driveway has receded dramatically.
Joshua and I did a little “recon” mission this morning on foot. The big issue for us now is that the water on the other roads in our subdivision are still under about three feet of water. So no driving just yet. We are hoping to check again this afternoon to see if it’s receded to the point of being driveable.
Also, another thing that I wanted to point out is that it is incredibly difficult to walk through three feet of water over an extended period of time. It’s not the same as regular walking. You essentially have to “push” your way through water as you’re walking just to move forward. This is another reason why I think the rescues may be going slower than some people were expecting. It’s just hard to even walk around in a lot of these flooded neighbourhoods.
Earlier this afternoon Joshua and I took a gamble and tried to make it out of our subdivision in our SUV. We made it! The roads were actually clear once we got out of our neighbourhood. Of course, we were only able to go about a half-mile in all directions because of the road closures/rescues, but it was good to get out. We got a feel for how things were going in our area and what we should be expecting over the next few days.
One of the things that I continue to be concerned about is the plan for restocking local grocery stores and gas stations. The H-E-B Grocery Store near my house opened with limited service today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. They only let in 10 customers at a time. The line snaked around the building but we waited anyway and got in. There was virtually no fresh produce, milk, bread, eggs or other household “staples” once we got inside. They did restock with critical items like water and they had pallets of ramen in the aisles. There was also the remaining stash of pre-Harvey canned goods and frozen food. But the majority of the shelves were bare.
We got a few things, but I am definitely planning to venture further out once gas stations re-open. I know that now is not the time to press the issue about the restock, but as we head into Day 5, there are many around the city who are running low on food. And as we move from rescue to recovery, I feel like this could become problematic.
Also, I saw the sun for the first time today since Friday. I cried. It’s hard to fully express the depth and severity of what is happening to people who aren’t here. Every place that I have ever lived in this city, apart from my current house and parents’ house, is either completely submerged or under evacuation. Coast Guard helicopters are flying over my head every 10 minutes. I literally know 12 people who are still trapped and awaiting rescue. It’s emotionally exhausting to witness.
And the funny thing about floods is that they don’t always show their scars the way other disasters do. Once the waters recede and the sun comes out, it can look like nothing ever happened. It can even start to FEEL like nothing happened if you weren’t directly impacted. My hope is that when the adrenaline wears off, people in this city are still ready to roll up their sleeves and rebuild.
For the first time since Friday I feel like I can actually relax. My neighbourhood is now completely dry and the sun has been out all day. We were also able to drive around a bit more to get a better sense of the damage.
We spent the majority of our time in the Galleria area outside of the 610 loop. Although there were plenty of cars driving beside us along the roads it felt like a ghost town. There were no open stores or restaurants, no metro buses or jaywalkers. We were all just driving and looking, happy to be outside.
I know I have said it before, but it bears repeating — it all feels so surreal. It is hard to believe that just yesterday I was wading through thigh-high water in my rainboots, trying to formulate a plan to get out of my neighbourhood. And it is even harder to believe that just a few miles east of the Galleria people are (still!) arriving by the busload at the downtown shelters.
Overall, I feel less despondent than I did yesterday about the recovery process. But as a former project manager, my mind just keeps coming back to the logistics of it all — to the nuts and bolts of what it will take to truly get this city functioning again.
Next Tuesday, September 5 seems to be the benchmark that all of our public officials are aiming for. To be honest, I am sceptical. I know that it is still six days away, but I remain concerned that once the majority of Houstonians emerge from their homes post-flood, we will encounter some major problems.
For starters, there is still very little gasoline around the city. I realise that most people filled up before the storm and aren’t really thinking about that yet. But it won’t be long. Houston is a driving town. And for the second day in a row, I passed nearly 30 gas stations. Only four were operational and of those, two of those were rationing.
There is also a dwindling supply of food at many of the grocery stores. I went back to H-E-B this morning and it was worse than before. Almost all of the shelves were picked clean. I also noticed that there were stores that were open yesterday but closed today due to a lack of supplies.
Again, I know that we are only barely entering into the recovery phase, but I feel like this is one of those things that everyone is going to notice at one time. But we will just have to wait and see I guess.
I have decided that I am not going to dwell on the things that I can’t change, but instead manage one thing at a time. Josh was able to start cleaning out the debris from our yard today, so that was a start.
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