Horror and hope: One reporter’s experiences covering Hurricane Harvey

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Horror and hope: One reporter’s experiences covering Hurricane Harvey

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Erik Peterson and his son, Carlos, 10, are rescued from their house on Blackhaw Street adjacent to a dam on the Addicks Reservoir on Aug. 29. JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Hurricane Harvey caused havoc. It destroyed homes. It took lives.

It also revealed acts of kindness and quiet heroism.

Horror and hope
American-Statesman reporter shares experience covering Hurricane Harvey from the front lines.
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_Horror and hope_

American\-Statesman reporter shares experience covering Hurricane Harvey from the front lines.

KickerThis is a kicker.

Harveys destruction greeted us early in the Houston area on the morning of Monday, Aug. 28. American\-Statesman photographer Jay Janner and I stood in murky water outside of the Ravensway neighborhood in Northwest Houston. Volunteers with a fishing boat showed up. We asked them if we could hop on as they made their way in. We had arrived from Austin hours earlier, getting to Houston through a partially flooded Interstate 10 and past the Katy area, which I had, until recently, spent two years covering as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. In Ravensway, people were stranded in their homes. The rain pounded, and the floodwaters felt frigid as they rushed into my shoes and up past my knees. A howling wind ruffled my raincoat and blew raindrops into my eyes.

Once in the neighborhood, we arrived at the home of Bobby Nelson. Inches of water had already seeped into his home. Carpets were floating. Nelson, 78, paced back and forth, unsure of what he should take or leave. As he and the rescue volunteers packed his bags, I asked him if he lived with anyone else. He stopped moving and looked at me. His lips quivered. Im sorry, he told me. He began to cry. I live here by myself. My wife died two years ago. Rescue workers pulled Nelson into their boat minutes later. The volunteers would pick up two others before rowing out of the neighborhood onto dry land, dropping the people off and heading back in. Some of them wept after being rescued. People also were wading through the water to try to get to their homes. As we left Ravensway, we saw pickups rescuing flood victims, ambulances zooming by, their sirens blaring, police officers wrapping blankets around storm victims and more boats appearing. [**READ MORE: Extensive coverage of Texas response to Harvey**](http://www.statesman.com/weather/hurricanes/complete\-coverage\-hurricane\-harvey/hSGRomd460PPpqD4CSkG7N/)

**_I thought I was going to die_**

As we made our way farther into Houston, traffic rules often disappeared. Cars drove into oncoming traffic as they tried to avoid floodwaters. Flooded road after flooded road made driving through Houston a maze. Some traffic lights were not working at all. Not one business seemed open. In a metro area of more than 6 million people, many roads and neighborhoods seemed eerily empty. Hotels were packed, and shelters were filling. In West Houston near the Addicks Reservoir, people waded through floodwaters near businesses. Some stood around, looking down a flooded road that stretched for blocks, gasping, taking photos with their phones and talking. Volunteers, as well as Harris County officials, drove past blocked roads and sped off into the floodwaters to search for people using airboats. I heard a thundering noise in the sky and looked up to see a military helicopter zoom by.

We noticed a fleet of emergency vehicles drive up to a neighborhood near the south end of the reservoir. FEMA rescue workers in life vests and helmets stepped out, carrying walking sticks. Some grabbed a boat and began wading through knee\-deep water into the neighborhood. Along the way, they looked into a car that was partially submerged. No one appeared to be inside. They disappeared into a home about 100 yards away. Minutes later they were out, with a middle\-aged man and a young boy inside the boat. I was scared, the boy, Carlos Peterson, told me after getting out of the boat. I thought I was going to die.

**_On to Beaumont_**

We woke up Wednesday, Aug. 30, to news about the destruction Harvey was causing in smaller towns east of Houston, specifically in Beaumont and Port Arthur. We headed in that direction. We barely made it to Beaumont. U.S. 90 going east had huge patches of water that were impassible unless you had a large vehicle \(thankfully, we did\). At one point, I stared down at the road and couldnt see the white lines. Businesses yards away had water halfway up to their roofs. The other side of the highway looked like a lake. In Beaumont, we saw a dump truck drive into a flooded neighborhood. More helicopters glided above us as the rain poured.

At the Beaumont Civic Center, which had been turned into a Red Cross shelter, hundreds gathered inside. Green sleeping cots were lined into dozens of rows. People searched for a place to rest. Some stretched out, exhausted, on a cot. Others sat trying to pass the time on their phone, eating or just sitting, not quite sure what to do. Volunteers stacked piles of clothes on a stage. Military personnel walked past. A line formed where they were serving food. Dozens of portable bathrooms lined a sidewalk outside. Sometime overnight Wednesday or early Thursday morning, Beaumonts main water pumps flooded, leaving the town without a working water system. People began lining around grocery stores. Anxiety grew as reports circulated of gas pumps throughout Texas being down, making evacuating harder. Patients at the Beaumont Baptist Hospital were being rolled out, still in their beds, and loaded into helicopters that were landing in the hospitals parking lot. All of them were being evacuated to other cities. Trucks carrying water and supplies appeared downtown. People lined up to get their share. Several National Guard Humvees were parked nearby. City leaders said they werent sure when water pumps would work again. We saw piles of peoples belongings stacked outside of homes both in Beaumont and Houston. Inside, shocked residents continued to pick up their soggy possessions, the walls around them gutted to their bones. In many, flooring was being ripped up, and salvageable furniture was stacked in heaps. In one Southwest Houston neighborhood, it seemed like every house had a pile of rubble in front of it.

**_Acts of kindness_**

For all of the chaos Harvey brought, I also witnessed countless moments of resilience and of hope. I saw people jump into sewage\-infested floodwaters to rescue strangers. I saw lines of pickups hauling fishing boats drive into flooded towns and neighborhoods. There were sights of people embracing each other and donated food and supplies being carried into shelters so victims could have a warm meal and a dry set of clothes. At the Beaumont Civic Center, children tossed balls around and played with blocks while filling an area with laughter. The kindnesses being offered to the storm victims were extended even to us, a reporter and photographer from faraway Austin. In Beaumont, it seemed that impassible roads and packed hotels were going to force us to sleep at the shelter. But Lenny Caballero, one of the Civic Center leaders we met that day, and his wife, Melissa, offered to let us stay in their home for as many nights as needed. They provided beds and a warm shower. They brought us egg croissants in the morning. They spoke to us like friends. When the water stopped pumping, they showed me how to flush a toilet without running water. \(You quickly dump a bucket of water into the toilet. Works like magic.\) We slept there two nights. When we were preparing to leave, a simple thank you didnt seem to suffice for what they had done for us. We might need it too someday, Melissa Caballero told me.

**_Aftermath_**

After nearly a week on Harveys front lines, on Friday, Sept. 1, we started making our way back to Austin. The highways were packed with cars as waters receded. The sun made an appearance. As we drove, I thought of all we had seen. Harvey had given Texas its worst. It caused havoc. It destroyed homes. It took lives. It also revealed acts of kindness and quiet heroism. I looked down at my smartphone and saw a breaking news alert. It told us that another powerful storm, Hurricane Irma, was beginning to barrel its way toward the Caribbean Islands and possibly Florida. It could be there soon, the alert warned. I hoped they would be ready.

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