Houston: after Hurricane Harvey and the floods

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In late August/early September 2017 I lived at second hand through the extensive flooding which engulfed much of the city of Houston, but I did so from the safety of Europe.

With family living in Houston I was glued to news bulletins and live streaming on the local Houston TV channels. I stayed in touch by phone and text and I shared their anxiety of not knowing if they would have to leave their home. They had packed ready to evacuate; they were in my mind much of the time. When Hurricane Harvey barrelled through Texas, flattening the quaint and friendly seaside town of Rockport, then brought heavy rains which swamped much of Houston, I was on holiday in Belgium and France.

It was a strange holiday, fraught with worry. There was nothing useful I could do except support them from afar. Now six months on, I’m in Houston visiting them and seeing what Harvey left in its wake for myself. Much of the city looks as it always has on previous visits. On the surface things appear to have returned to normal….but have they? Many have not.

Mindful of the extent of flood damage, I’ve not been able to ignore  what the floods did to the lives of so many who were caught up in them. My family were very fortunate; they escaped evacuation and their home was safe.

But others living nearby were not so lucky. The slow release of water from the nearby dams had a dramatic effect on the surrounding area. The bayou, a short walk away, spilled over its banks leaving residential roads, lined with family homes, ruined. These are currently being repaired. There are roads of empty, sad-looking houses, each with a skip in the drive. The vehicles parked outside belong to contractors who are doing repairs. Many houses are up for sale. It’s like a ghost town.

The bayou still looks swollen and full, especially when it rains hard (as it does in Houston). Piles of plastic rubbish have been deposited along its banks.  The trees, awaiting the warmth of spring, have a forlorn, tangled appearance. Will they come back to life? They were under toxic, mucky water for two weeks.  On a positive note, the birds are back in their branches, singing.

P1040815A large sinkhole has appeared in the path by the bayou and awaits repair. It stretches beneath the path, undermining it and exposing the grey clay beneath.

A brick wall and wooden fencing have collapsed near a main thoroughfare which was under water. Waiting at a traffic light to turn under a flyover, I was told that the flood water was higher than the level of the bridge overhead.

There are visible tide marks on buildings showing just how high the waters rose. Tall office buildings stand empty, or stacked with workmen’s tools while repairs take place at ground level. And there is a sad and poignant epitaph painted on the side of a house in the nearby ghost town area where a life was lost. P1040949

Yet there is an optimism – or maybe an acceptance of fate, should this all happen again – that Houston will survive, and I’m sure it will. People will rise to the challenge of being forced to make a fresh start, and I admire them for this show of spirit which has cemented their sense of community, pride and love of their city.

With the start of the hurricane season only four months off, it sounds as if some of the lessons of the past have been learned. More building regulations have to be put in place to ensure that the unfettered, unrestricted regs of the past don’t allow for similar flooding risks and dangers. A heightened awareness of the effects of climate change surely has to be included in the equation, especially now that global weather patterns are hitting unprecedented extremes of unpredictability.

 

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