Hurricane Harvey: Evacuation

Monday, August 28, 2017, 11:30 AM. The boats on which we rode out of our flooded neighborhood dropped us off at the main entrance to our subdivision. Coast Guard helicopters hovered in the sky above us. Clutching two kitchen trash bags hastily stuffed with clothing and our cell phones, I along with my wife, my son, four dogs, and one cat stood trembling with wet cold on Memorial Drive, which was becoming somewhat of an island among the rising flood waters. The transportation to shelter we were told would be waiting was nowhere to be seen. Although the guts of Harvey had departed our area, it was raining. We were wet, we were cold, we had four animals with nowhere to go and no way to get there. How did we wind up in this perilous situation?

IMG_1131Sunday, August 27, 2017, 6:45 PM. As I sat in the family room completing my fantasy football draft, the power suddenly went out. I was surprised; so far, Harvey had passed with no power issues in our neighborhood. As the evening wore on and the power remained out, my surprise transitioned to concern. We began to see chatter on Next Door (nextdoor.com, a website on which neighbors can commiserate on items of interest in the neighborhood) and other social media apps that the US Army Corps of Engineers would begin opening flood gates on nearby Addicks and Barker Reservoirs sometime during the night, and that water would soon begin to enter adjoining neighborhoods. The chatter included assurances that the releases would be controlled and we in the path of the coming floods would have ample time after daylight to safely leave our homes.

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Power out, monitoring Internet for news and information. 8.27.2017

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Flood waters rising, early morning 8.28.2017

Monday, August 28, 2017, 5:45 AM. We awoke at the crack of dawn with flood waters already halfway between our front door and the street. There was no way we were driving out. Overcoming our initial frustration, we began moving non-perishable food items and other storm survival essentials upstairs, expecting to remain up there for a day or two until the flood waters receded. I pulled our cars as high up in the driveway as possible. As the morning wore on, the waters continued to rise. We began to see people walking out of the neighborhood towing kayaks, pool floats, and even a large inflatable duck. Soon powered watercraft were cruising the street. Jet skis and bass boats operated by volunteers were joined by the red boats of the US Coast Guard. As the Coast Guard was loading up my next door neighbors, I walked over in ankle-deep water that lapped against the front of our house. I noticed the Coast Guard helicopters flying back and forth across the sky over the neighborhood, the thump-thump-thump of their rotors reverberating in my chest. (It was at this moment that I truly understood what the word “surreal” means. This was it.) “Sir, if you want to leave, you’ve got to leave now,” the young man on the Coast Guard boat said as he helped my neighbors climb aboard. “Seriously?” I asked, somewhat incredulously. “Sir, the flood gates are open and you will soon have six feet of water, maybe more, in your home and it will be here for at least two weeks. If you want to go, we will come back for you after we evacuate these people.” We really had no option. “Okay,” I said, “we’ll get ready. Where will we go?” He responded that there would be transportation waiting to take us and our animals to an evacuation shelter at the nearby British Petroleum office building. “Pack light and hurry,” he said.

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Early evacuees walked out with aid of kayaks and other small watercraft. 8.28.2017

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One of many volunteers who aided evacuation efforts. My wife took this pic as they navigated down our street. 8.28.2017

Monday, August 28, 2017, 11:00 AM. As we rushed to gather our pets and a few belongings, the boat arrived at our front door. This was a very nice fishing boat piloted and manned by local volunteers. As we worked to corral our confused animals, they offered calm reassurance. “Don’t rush. We’ll get you out. Take your time. We’ll be fine.” Offering limited capacity, we loaded my wife, son and four dogs on board. As they pulled away from our house, a volunteer on foot towing a canoe approached me. We loaded the pet carrier holding my daughter’s cat and my trash bag full of clothes onto the canoe and began walking down our street. As we walked the water increased in depth until it was up to my chest. A red coast guard boat (different from the one that picked up my neighbors) came around the corner and picked us up. The young man piloting the craft told me they were with the Coast Guard unit from Memphis, TN. He was 24 years old. I was impressed at his maturity and his ability to pilot the boat amongst the submerged mailboxes, shrubbery and other obstacles. Pulling up to Memorial Drive, we offloaded and I was reunited with my family.

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My wife took this photo of our poodle held by our son as they pulled away. Our house is in the background. 8.28.2017

Monday, August 28, 2017, 11:45 AM. That, dear reader, is how we arrived in this perilous situation. It was raining. We were wet. We were cold. There was no transportation and no shelter at British Petroleum. A neighborhood security guard was parked at our subdivision’s entrance. I asked him about the promised transportation. “You’re on your own, man.” We had nowhere to go and no way to get there. Frustrated, we considered flagging down a boat and having them take us home. It was at that moment the beautiful, shiny black Cadillac Escalade pulled up alongside us.

“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” ~ Psalm 56:3

(c) Jeffrey R Strege 2018

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